Bernard Zell Blog

Leon Covitz, Head of Jewish Life & Jewish Learning

Wow! What a wonderful morning I experienced yesterday at school!

I had an inspirational zoomorning, and all from the comfort of my apartment. I was honored to join the Tuesday morning celebrations with Early Childhood and their grandparents. To see the happiness and joy on the faces of both the students and their beloved grandmothers and grandfathers, was uplifting. Tears of joy were not just dripping down the cheeks of the grandparents but also Morah Hagit and Ms. Aloni who were so overcome with emotion at such a beautiful sight. The singing and dancing led by Mr. Todd was indeed a treat for everyone who was blessed to be in attendance. 

Then I quickly had to go to a meeting with Ron Dermer, the Israeli Ambassador to the US, along with a few of our 8th graders. The ambassador wanted to meet 8th graders from North American Jewish Day schools whose Israel trips had been canceled. There were more than 300 students on the call. I was taken aback by the answer Ambassador Dermer gave to a student who asked him what, in fact, he actually did. The first part of the reply focused on what an ambassador actually does. He sees himself as Israel’s representative. The second, it’s voice. Then he added something which I felt was very profound. Until May of 1948—when there was no State of Israel—there was no voice. The Jews around the world had to rely on leaders from other countries speaking on their behalf. Now Israel and its citizens have a voice throughout the world. Now Israel decides what is in its best interest. Its fate is no longer in the hands of others. I am sure everyone who heard him felt this strong message, as third-generation Jews who are alive in a period when there is Jewish sovereignty in the land of our ancestors. Having been uplifted from that meeting, I bounced into my next and favorite meeting—my 5th graders who inspire me, daily. 

After counting the Omer, and making Havdalah (which we can still do even on a Tuesday), we discussed some of the modern Jewish heroes who helped the State of Israel at its time of need—immediately before and after the 1948 War of Independence—and answered her call. Last week, my class reviewed the lives of six Jews from around the world who left the comfort of their homes in the West to help with the establishment of the State of Israel. They fought in the war that broke out immediately after its declaration. We heard about Ruth Stern, a passionate nurse from South Africa. Harold Katz from Indiana who left Harvard while in his second year of law school. Norman Lamm from New York and a science major who would become the President of Yeshiva University. Sol Balkin from Chicago who had just fought the Nazis during the Shoah and felt his call was to help the Jews in the Holy Land. Vidal Sassoon, a young Brit who saw this as a moment not to be missed. Sassoon would eventually become a world-famous hairdresser and a manufacturer of hair products. Isadore Millstone, a successful businessman in construction who was asked by David Ben-Gurion to help build houses for the expected 700,000 new immigrants that the young state was required to take in. My students learned about people who wanted to be active participants in the Jewish story at a critical time in its history. Hopefully, my class felt as inspired as I did and want to be part of our glorious heritage, with Bernard Zell providing them with opportunities to be part of it.

Today, I was able to capture each moment. In this week’s Torah reading, Emor we read about the Moadim—fixed times—that are set aside for the people to come closer to God as a community. Parts of this parsha are read throughout the year when the respective festivals are celebrated. Holy time and capturing moments are integral components of being a Jew. These are “special” days. This does imply that other days are not, because it is what we do and experience that also make them “special.” This morning was very special to me. Why? Because I will never forget the three events that I was able to attend and be part of for the rest of my life.  They inspired me as a proud Jew who loves his rich Jewish heritage and wants to transfer this intense love of being a Jew to the next generation through Jewish education, Jewish life and Jewish experience.

As the song goes, “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got a wonderful feeling everything's going my way,”—and it is and I am in control of it.

Leon Covitz, Director of Jewish Life & Jewish Studies

I love reading, learning Torah and preparing quality lessons, which are hopefully meaningful and transformative for my students. The last few weeks our Torah readings have been focused on organizing and then building the Mishkan—the Tabernacle or sanctuary in which God’s presence was to be felt the strongest. 

During last Shabbat’s Torah reading of VaYakhel-Pekudei, the Mishkan was constructed. Then on the first day of the month of Nissan—which we celebrate on Thursday—the Mishkan was completed and ready. Apart from Moshe there were two tribal leaders who were integral to its construction. Betzalel from the tribe of Yehuda was called upon by God and bestowed with the divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft. Oholiav from the Tribe of Dan assisted in its construction. 

Once the Mishkan has been fully constructed we find the word קרא (karah) being used again. This time the Torah states: ויקרא אל משה (And He called to Moshe). Why is karah used and not the usual וידבר (va’yidaber) or ויאמר (vayomer), i.e. God spoke or said to Moshe? Instead, God “calls'' to Moshe. What is going on at the beginning of Sefer VaYikra (Leviticus, third book of the Torah)? It’s as if Moshe is being asked to answer some sort of “call” and go on another mission. Last week, karah was used in reference to Betzalel from the tribe of Yehuda who was “called” upon to construct the Mishkan. Moshe is now the undisputed leader of the Israelites, who led his people out of Egyptian bondage. His mission continues but in a different direction. Moshe is now “called” upon to teach Torah and be the law-giver to the Israelite nation. His mission has changed. He completed his first mission—lead them out of Egypt. Moshe is now answering his next, and all-important mission, on behalf of his people, to lead them as their spiritual guide and mentor.

In a previous D’var Torah I focused on a “calling” which I received many years ago, when I was sent to “visit” Russian Jews, known as refuseniks. Without a doubt that event was transformational. It strengthened my Jewish identity. Yet my next “calling” was the one to make aliyah, to go, contribute and live on a kibbutz in Israel, and make a major contribution to this unique collective agricultural community. I was the young, raring to go, sometimes naive idealist. I helped run the dairy farm and loved every moment. I was part of a group of committed, Jewish, socialist, Zionists who wanted to build up the Land of Israel. We wanted to create a just society based on the ideals of Torah Va’Avodah—living a life of Torah, working on Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) and contributing to the young State of Israel. It was during this period that I felt my closest and strongest connection to the Jewish People, Israel and my heritage. I had a third calling, but I will tell you about that at another time. Perhaps, the Jewish People narrative is one of “callings'' and fulfilling missions. Perhaps the seder night, which we will be celebrating in two weeks time, is one when we read about the mission of the Jewish People after first looking back at our history. It’s not been easy, but we are very much part of making this world a better place. 

So what is your calling? Hopefully, you will find it just as Moshe and Betzlalel did and became great leaders for the Israelite nation. Perhaps at this present moment we are all being called upon. We are called upon to not only remain in our homes but to also demonstrate an incredible amount of self-control and perform acts of gemillut chassadim—of selfless kindness to others—especially the weak and the elderly.

Finally, there is a prayer for the new month. It is traditionally recited on the Shabbat prior to Rosh Chodesh, the new moon. On Thursday, we will be celebrating the new month of Nissan, which means we are a mere two weeks exactly from Pessach. In my opinion, this tefillah captures what each of us are praying for during this time of stress and societal separation. Yet we know there will come a time, hopefully very soon, when we can come out of the present situation and return to our routine. 

Yehi Ratzon, May it be Your will Lord our God and God of our fathers, to renew for us this coming month for good and blessing. Give us a long life, a life of peace, a life of goodness, a life of blessing, a life of sustenance, a life of physical health, a life marked by fear of heaven and dread of sin, a life without shame or disgrace, a life of wealth and honor, a life in which we have love for the Torah and fear of heaven, a life in which our hearts’ desires are fulfilled for good. Amen Selah (Translation - The Koren NCSY Siddur). 

And may I add, may we speedily return to a life of routine and to a welcoming, loving society without fear of illness or pain. The Bernard Zell staff miss being in front of your children—our students—but we will continue to offer them quality educational programs, albeit through technological means. Shabbat Shalom. 

B’vracha and be safe.

Dana Hirt, Founder and Principal of Dana Hirt Parenting
  1. Manage your own anxiety. Get the support you need so you don’t escalate fear for your children.
  2. Stay informed. The CDC website is loaded with valuable information for parents. In addition, stay on top of communication from your children’s school, pediatrician, tutors, etc. 
  3. Focus on what you CAN control. It’s important for our children to still feel like they are empowered. Involve older kids in setting up hand washing stations in the house; create a checklist to wipe down handles, light switches and knobs every hour and assign the tasks.
  4. Make a plan. Structure is important for kids and they like being able to anticipate what is happening next. Post your daily schedule and use colors and pictures for little ones.
  5. Be prepared to PIVOT. You may need to revisit the plan as the situation changes. Be flexible. 
  6. Have family meetings. A weekly forum (or more frequent if necessary) to check in with each other will help manage the stress of all of this together time.

  7. Dedicate private space. Everyone should have a special place in your home that is just his/hers. It can be a fort in the corner of the living room, but privacy is important.
  8. Don’t isolate emotionally or psychologically. Stay connected to your extended family, friends and community. We are all in this together. Use technology (FaceTime, Zoom, WhatsApp) to check-in and ‘see’ each other.
  9. Share your best ideas. Post a great pantry staple recipe. Share a fun family game. 
  10. Do something for someone else. Have your kids write a letter to a senior in an assisted living facility. Donate to your local food pantry. Buy a gift certificate for a restaurant in your area.
Leon Covitz, Head of Jewish Life & Jewish Learning

How do you feel when you enter a beit knesset/shul/synagogue and go into the sanctuary?

I have been to many synagogues throughout the world. In each one I have had a different feeling. There is a certain feeling of awe that is hard to describe. I do not feel it anywhere else, only when I enter into the sanctuary. For me the whole atmosphere changes. I feel the intensity, and yes I feel God’s presence. In some synagogues’ sanctuaries there are no mezuzot on the doorposts. Perhaps, this is teaching us that the sanctuary is a place for prayer, for individual introspection, for community in-gathering, for singing songs of praise and celebration or for hearing a drasha (words of Torah) from the lay or religious leadership. The sanctuary for these synagogues are not for living in—sleeping, eating, frivolity, talking—but are mekomot kedoshim, holy places, where God’s presence can be found and felt by those who seek it.

In this week’s parsha of Terumah, God commands Moshe:  

וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם

“Construct for Me a holy place (sanctuary) that I may dwell among them.” 

God is aware of the human condition for a physical place to feel His presence among the people. The Mikdash was to be part of the Mishkan, Tabernacle. It was a place where the people would feel elevated by God’s presence. The word Shechina provides us with a sense of God also wanting to be near or among us. In Hebrew, a neighborhood is referred to as shechuna and our neighbor as a shachen, someone whom we feel especially close to because he/she lives beside us. It’s as if God wants to be our neighbor and for His presence to be felt in His dwelling place and in our lives. 

Over the next few parshiot (Torah readings) God will instruct Moshe on how to construct His sanctuary, so that He may dwell (shochen) amongst His people. Moshe is going to ask the Israelites, who have many precious materials which they received from the Egyptians when they left Egypt, to donate them to the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Israelites were only too willing to open their hearts and voluntarily contribute to its building. 

The Jewish People, wherever they have lived, have also seen the importance of building a synagogue as being a priority when they establish a community. It is important to point out that the modern synagogue is not just a Beit Tefillah, house of prayer. It also functions as one of learning Torah, a place for social and charity events and for community building. This provides the individual with various ways to interact and engage with Judaism, Jewish identity and the Jewish community. Our new building has been constructed for our diverse Bernard Zell community. There is also a special place for our new Torah to be housed, prayers to be recited and songs to be sung as a community. The Makom Rina, for me, is our sanctuary which offers various opportunities to connect with each other on different levels. Every time I enter Makom Rina I feel the intensity, which I feel nowhere else. I also know I am in a special place. Ya’acov, when he was leaving Eretz Yisrael, arrived at a place for the night. He slept there on the ground and God appeared to him in a vision. When he woke Ya’acov was concerned that he had not been cognizant that he had slept at a holy site. He suddenly exclaims the famous words:

אָכֵן יֵשׁ ה’ בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה; וְאָנֹכִי, לֹא יָדָעְתִּי

“Is it possible that God was in this place and I did not realize it?”

In Makom Rina (the place of heightened happiness) it is difficult not to realize you are in a large circular room that was built for both the community and individual. It hopefully helps to fulfill our spiritual, intellectual and social needs. Perhaps one who seeks can feel God’s presence, shechina. Hopefully, when you leave Makom Rina you feel elevated spiritually, intellectually and emotionally.

We have to thank all those generous people from both inside and outside our community who contributed to making our new beautiful building a reality. It is certainly a place where many of us surely feel elevated.

Finally, this week we brought in the new Hebrew month of Adar. According to our tradition Mishenichnas Adar marbim b’Simcha - when the month of Adar enters, joy increases. I am sure our Makom Rina will help us elevate our joy that we are blessed with a Jewish community that cares not only about the present but also about the future generations of Jews in this area and around the world. May they also have the ability to celebrate dynamic, diverse, Jewish life and Jewish experience which is an integral part of being part of the Bernard Zell mishpacha, family.

Gary Weisserman, Head of School

An Identity Rooted in Moral Aspiration

There are a few times in the Torah where God makes a formal agreement with mankind. The first, at the very start of the Jewish story, leads to the establishment of the Abrahamic covenant, in which God promises to Avram Avenu:

“I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of the heaven and the sands on the seashore; and your descendants shall seize the gates of their foes. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, because you obeyed My command.”

It’s a fascinating, unilateral contract, because it required no additional action on our part. For the descendants of Abraham—B’nai Yisrael, the Sons of Israel—God’s promise was unconditional and unrequited. Simply by belonging, by being one of the family (what we might jokingly refer to these days as “being an MOT”), the Jews received God’s blessing. There were no requirements, no commandments to follow, no obligations, moral imperative to act in a particular way other than survival and continuity (and as if to underscore that point, every one of the characters we meet along the way for the rest of Genesis is a flawed moral actor).

In this week’s parsha, Yitro, everything changes. With the revelation of the ten commandments, our very identity changes in a subtle but important way, because the new Mosaic covenant introduces the most powerful word in the Torah—the word “if.”

“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians … Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully, and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples.”

With the introduction of that short word, suddenly our identity as Jews becomes conditional. From this point on, being Jewish was something you did, not just something you were. And it’s no accident that this occurs in the context of the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, because at the core of God’s condition was what Rabbi Eddie Feinstein refers to as “an ethic of empathy: ‘You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt’ … Exodus Judaism is an identity rooted in moral aspiration, a social vision for the world. To be a Jew,” Rabbi Feinstein wrote, “is to build a world where no human being is ever relegated to invisibility.”  

This is at the heart of the covenant God made with Moses at Sinai—and at the heart of what it means to be a Jew.

Gary Weisserman, Head of School

This week’s parsha, Beshalach, continues the story of the Exodus from Egypt. It’s also high on my own private “Top Ten” list of Torah sections to write about, as there is so much to discuss.  The parting of the Red Sea, Moses drawing water from the rock, Israel receiving a double portion of Manna—all these are filled with metaphoric significance, steeped in the context of perhaps the most central part of our people’s origin story. Even the conflict between the Torah’s narrative and the historical record is of great interest and debate.  (Perhaps the most famous, and contentious, d’var torah in contemporary times was delivered on this very topic by my friend and colleague Rabbi David Wolpe). But today, I want to focus on a larger message: what the story of the Exodus from Egypt tells us about the Jewish response to oppression and loss of dignity, and how we are reminded of that each and every time we pray.

Towards the end of the Shema, the central prayer of Judaism, we come across what Rabbi Eddie Feinstein once described as “God’s Business Card,” where God describes Himself this way: Ani adonai elohaichem, asher hotzeiti etchem m’eretz mitrzrayim. I am the Lord thy God, He says, and there are an infinite number of ways He could finish this sentence: creator of the universe, omnipotent and omniscient presence, merciful judge and redeemer. But He chooses instead to give us something to aspire to: “I am the Lord thy God who rescued you from bondage in Egypt.”  What an extraordinary statement!  It is, to my knowledge, uniquely Jewish. And what an aspirational message for us to hear: I am the Lord your God, who acts on behalf of freedom, who defeats the tyrant, who rescues and improves the human condition.

Rabbinic tradition tells us that we are to repeat the Shema twice a day, both in the morning and at night, because it is the single most important part of a Jewish prayer service. That this most important prayer culminates with this very statement, this description of how God defines himself, is not an accident.  It is intended to serve as both a reminder and a command. It reminds us that we were “the other” once, that it we were oppressed, that our dignity had been removed. And it commands us to act on that knowledge in our daily interactions—to work towards freedom for all, to fight indignity, to oppose exploitation—so that in our own small way, through the deeds we choose, we may honor God through action.

Leon Covitz, Director of Jewish Life and Jewish Learning

Two weeks ago marked a very special anniversary for me. It was to be one of the most transformative events in my life. I was answering one of the most important “calls” that I had ever received. Thirty-six years ago, I was sent on a mission to the former Soviet Union. I went to Moscow not to visit the awesome tourist sites. I was on a mission improbable, but not impossible. Accompanied by my best friend we visited many refuseniks. They were Jews who had been refused visas to leave the former USSR. Many refuseniks like Natan (Anatoly) and Avital Scharansky, Sylvia Zalmanson, Yuli Edelstein, to name a few, were to become household Jewish heroes and leaders. We brought with us kosher food for Pessach, handed-out Jewish books, taught Jewish texts, sang Jewish and Hebrew songs and most importantly, got visas for a few of them from a “friendly” embassy, so they could escape.

For those unfamiliar with the plight of Soviet Jewry from 1967 (after the miraculous Six Day War) to 1989, it was one of both hardship and persecution. It was especially traumatic for Jews who dared to apply for a visa to leave the former Soviet Union with the intention to go to either the West (including America) or Israel. Back in my hometown of Glasgow, Scotland, we would attend vigils for Soviet Jews. I remember welcoming a refusenik who was able to “escape” when he would visit my community. We would celebrate and then continue together, as a community, demanding the release of all Jews who wanted to leave this cruel regime. This happened in many Jewish communities worldwide.

In Parshat Bo, this week’s Torah reading, Moshe again appears before Pharoah and demands that he release the Israelites—Sh’lach et Ami veya’avduni—“let my people go so that they would serve Me.” The words Sh’lach et Ami were to become the rallying cry for Soviet Jewry activists and its supporters worldwide. The Russian government was seen as the evil empire similar to Pharaoh and his taskmasters. We would shout these three words at Russian diplomats or officials. Whether there were demonstrations in the US or Western Europe, the words Shlach et Ami were written on placards, both in Hebrew and English, which would be held high. Jews from all denominations marched together and demanded “LET MY PEOPLE GO.” Our hope for their freedom never died. Eventually, Jews were able to leave Russia, when communism fell in 1989. 

Today, many Russian Jews live in Israel and make important contributions to the culture of the Jewish State in the sciences, education, sports, entertainment, the arts and politics. Throughout American Jewish communities, the influence of Russian Jews can also be felt. We are blessed with many former Russian families who were able to leave the former Soviet Union and create new Jewish lives in America. Our community must remember the heroism of our brothers and sisters in the former Soviet Union. We celebrate Jewish Life at Bernard Zell in complete freedom on our campus. These courageous former Russian Jewish refuseniks brought not only their families but many traditions and a unique culture with them and are an integral part of our Jewish family. Together, we experience and live Jewish values and continue as free men and women. Am Yisrael Chai—The Jewish People are alive (and are thriving and growing) especially within the safe walls of our beautiful Bernard Zell, the Chicago community and Israel.

Leon Covitz, Head of Jewish Life & Jewish Learning

Parshat VaEra: Why was Moshe Chosen?

This past week has been a fairly emotional one for me. On Monday, I was in New York with Jewish Day School Judaic directors from around the country where I attended a moving tefillah community service dedicated to the legacy of Martin Luther King. Now, just three days later as I try to put words on my screen, I am focusing on a global event taking place in Jerusalem—the Holocaust Remembrance Forum which is commemorating 75 years since the Auschwitz death camp was liberated. Nearly 50 world leaders are gathering in the capital of Israel for events marking the darkest period in civilization. These events are reminders of what happens when evil is not stopped, as soon as it rears its ugly head. All the leaders condemned the rise of anti-Semitism in the world and promised to fight it in all its forms. Even in our parsha, Va’Era, God promises that He will bring His people out of Egypt and into the Land of Canaan. He has heard the cries of His people and develops an action plan that will release the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. These oppressed people will also see Moshe as His chosen leader. 

In Va’Era the first seven plagues afflict the Egyptians. Next week, the final three will be brought on them. But why was Moshe chosen to be the leader as opposed to Avraham who seeks out God? We learn in the Book of Exodus that God is seeking out a person who will not only be their leader but also be the one who will have to bring them out of the servitude of Egypt and lead them to Eretz Yisrael—the Promised Land. Yet it is not quite evident why Moshe is chosen by God to not only lead, but also be seen as the law-giver on Sinai. From a first reading of the biblical narratives, Moshe appears to be not only a reluctant leader who has a physical impediment—a heavy tongue—but also one who lacks confidence in his ability to be seen as someone with followers. So is there any evidence in the biblical narratives why God chooses him? 

In Exodus 2 there are three short stories at the beginning of last week’s parsha that may hint at Moshe’s character and why he may have been chosen by God to lead the Israelites from slavery to freedom and then receive the Torah. The first narrative describes Moshe’s reaction when he sees an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave. Moshe strikes the Egyptian who dies from his wounds. The second incident concerns two Jews who are fighting. When Moshe approaches the instigator of the fight he is rebuked and told “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? You think you are going to kill me, as you killed the Egyptian?” The third story happens after Moshe realizes that it is known that he killed an Egyptian. He escapes to Midian. There Moshe arrives at a well where shepherdesses and their flocks are being harassed by shepherds. He drives away the shepherds and lets the shepherdesses water their flocks.

From the above stories, one may see why Moshe was chosen to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, receive the Torah and end up before the borders of the Land of Israel. The first narrative shows that Moshe was prepared to stand up for the victim. The second narrative shows that Moshe was able to identify the guilty party who was bullying his fellow Israelite. The text even uses the term rasha—the wicked or guilty one. The third story shows that Moshe again stands up for what is right and is not afraid to take a stand against injustice. Moshe is chosen because he stands up for the weak and vulnerable and is a role model for justice. All three narratives describe leadership of the highest order.

Finally, I would like to complete this D’var Torah with the words of two people who have affected millions of people throughout the world—Martin Luther King and Elie Weisel. King is often seen as a modern-day Moses, who charges the Israelites before they enter the Land of Israel. In a famous speech he made to a group of school children in Philadephia on October 26, 1967—six months before his assassination—Martin Luther King laid down a challenge for his student audience. He said the following:

“And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it, don't just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn't do it any better. If it falls on your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can't be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be the best little shrub on the side of the hill. Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.” 

This is an inspirational message for all graduates who are about to leave the “nest” and go nervously into a world. They will be faced with many challenges.

Elie Wiesel—the Holocaust survivor and writer—loved his Jewish heritage and learning Torah. His biblical hero was Moses. In an article printed in a 2006 edition of Time magazine, Weisel wrote the following: 

“Moses was the greatest legislator and the commander in chief of the first liberation army. He was a prophet, God’s representative to the people and the people’s representative to God. And he never had a good day in his life. Either the people were against him, or God was against him. From Moses, we learn humility. Everyone needs it, but mainly the leaders. Because they have power.” 

For Weisel, Moshe was also chosen because he was humble, he never sought power. He was not influenced by the powerful, but stood up for justice and what was right.

Our students at Bernard Zell are brought up with the above Jewish values that were close to Moshe Rabbenu, our teacher. His influence is still felt today and it is even written in one of our famous prayers Yigdal, “There has never been in Israel a prophet like Moshe…” So as we read the rest of the Torah may we continue to learn about Moshe as a leader, rabbi, prophet, teacher, law-giver and also guide who loved his people and strove for justice and righteousness in the world.

B’vracha and Shabbat Shalom.

Leon Covitz, Director of Jewish Life & Jewish Learning

Five years ago during a Jewish Leadership session with some teenagers, I asked them about their wants and needs. Initially, I didn’t think they would not take it seriously. To my amazement, it turned into one of the most memorable classes that I have ever taught. Each teenager expressed and articulated what was important and not so important in his or her young life. The six most important needs were love and companionship, needing to be heard, a loving family, good health, fun and being given options in Jewish Life. Their “wants” included sibling approval, internet, friendship, money, free time and naps and opportunities to express themselves. One of the most important take-aways from this session was that they all wanted to be heard and feel part of a group or community. I realized from that moment on that my attitude toward teenagers had to change. I needed to be more flexible, and as Dean of Jewish Life, in my former school, these young adults needed to be given options. It was a change of mindset as a Jewish educator. 

In this week’s Torah portion we are introduced to a teenager who probably had similar “needs,” “wants” and “thoughts.” They would certainly influence his relationships with his family. For the next few Shabbatot our Torah portions will focus on a central biblical figure who was very controversial within his family. Our Torah reading is Parshat VaYeshev, although it could also be called Yoseph the Teenager. Hollywood, in the Joseph the Dreamer animation, captured his essence as well as his trials and tribulations with some of his family members.

So what makes Yoseph so special that he is going to be the central character for the next 14 chapters of Beresheit? From his birth to his death, and even to his eventual burial, Yoseph is seen as the catalyst in the history of the Israelite nation and ultimately the Jewish People. He will bring the family of Ya’acov down to Egypt. Eventually, he would return, albeit in a casket,  400 years later and be buried in Menashe’s (his elder son’s) capital city of Shechem. Yoseph made his brothers promise to return his bones to Eretz Yisrael, the land of their ancestors when they were to be redeemed and brought out of Egypt. They could not leave without his bones. Moshe even went searching for his casket until he found it while the Israelites were busily packing up and getting ready to leave Egypt. It’s as if Yoseph was very much alive even when he died, many years earlier.

The historian Paul Johnson focused on the similarities between Yoseph and Moshe, “both were younger sons part of that group—Abel, Yitzchak, Ya’acov, David and Shlomo—which it seems the peculiar purpose of the Bible to exalt. Both Yoseph and Moshe had no rights of birth, and narrowly survived vulnerable childhoods or youth; but both had the God-endowed qualities to bring them to greatness by their own efforts. Yoseph is the great minister-statesman of an alien ruler, the pattern of many Jews over the next 3000 years.”

Without doubt Yoseph, is introduced as a brash, strong-willed, happy-go-lucky 17-year-old when we first meet him as a teenager. Yoseph was to prove that he had both mental and spiritual strength despite his chutzpah.

Yoseph was away from his family for 22 years. This biblical character still speaks to our youth. He is described as a matzliach—a successful person. He is blessed with the ability to get out of sticky situations—with Potiphera’s wife, from being in prison and even from the pit that his brothers threw him into at the beginning of the parsha. Yoseph is not only a survivor but he is seen as a tzaddik—righteous person—because of his strong belief in God and adherence to his home traditions. He does not give up hope. Another rags-to-riches story with an ultimate reconciliation with his family at the end of Beresheit (Genesis).

Finally, Yoseph, for me, is a superhero. He is not only a contributor to Egyptian society but he never forgets his family values, his parents’ home and his Israelite roots. At Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School we also follow Jewish traditions and values that have been passed down from many generations.

May the lights from our hanukkiyot shine on us, the lives of our family, friends and Jewish community. May we also continue with all the beautiful traditions that we are blessed with during Hanukkah—our Jewish festival of lights. May these lights inspire us to go out into the world—like Yoseph—and make it a better place in which to live. 

Wishing all of our community a Shabbat Shalom and a Chag Urim Sameach—a Happy Hanukkah.


Leon Covitz, Director of Jewish Life & Jewish Learning

Parshat VaYishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:41): Tributes to an Aunt and a Niece

The Two Influences in Ya’acov’s Life - Rivka (mother) and Rachel (wife)

This Shabbat is a very special one for me. Yes, this Shabbat’s Torah reading, VaYishlach, is my Bar Mitzvah portion. Since my Bar Mitzvah, I have been blessed to have read it from the Torah in synagogue nearly every year. It is also significant for me because of what happens in one of its narratives. 

At the beginning of Parshat VaYishlach, Ya’acov starts his journey back to Eretz Yisrael to his father’s house after 20 years. For a long time, I could not understand why Ya’acov suddenly decides to return to his father’s home. What inspired him to come to this decision? Was it the birth of Yoseph, his son by his beloved wife Rachel? His loving mother Rivka had promised him that she would call him only when it was safe to return from up north in Haran. Only when his brother Esav’s anger had abated could he safely return home without fear. She never directly let him know. It was Rivka who had been behind Ya’acov receiving Esav’s bracha—material blessing. It would be two decades before Ya’acov would actually make his way back to his parents’ home. 

Yet Ya’acov, the son who dwelt in tents, left home with no possessions, and was now returning with not only many material gains but also with a large family including four wives, 11 sons, a daughter and many flocks, herds and servants. Perhaps this was part of the fulfillment of the bracha that his father bestowed upon him, or in fact Ya’acov was returning in order to fulfill the other Abrahamic - bechira - blessing that his numerous descendants would be given, Eretz Yisrael. This Abrahamic line would go through him. Ya’acov had the responsibility to make this happen. He, albeit reluctantly, was ready to fight his brother Esav if necessary. Ya’acov was fully aware that he was taking a chance. His family was at risk of being attacked, which could end in tragedy. But there is a hint that in fact Rivka was in the process of letting Ya’acov return, through her maid servant Devorah (Genesis  35:8). She suddenly passed away while she was with Ya’acov. According to the commentator Rashi, quoting Moshe HaDrashan, Devorah, Rivka’s handmaiden, was with Ya’acov in order to relay this news. She dies and is buried by Ya’acov. Devorah had been with Ya’acov in order to inform him, so that he could return home. Eventually, Ya’acov and Esav came together to bury their father—despite their differences—as brothers with their own families, possessions and promised lands. The last time Rivkah is directly involved in the Torah narrative, we are informed that she is the mother of both Ya’acov and Esav (28:5), which implied that she was a motherly figure in the lives of both her sons.

During the journey home, in the city of Beit Lechem (Bethlehem) Rachel, his beloved wife gives birth to their second son Binyamin, but she dies after childbirth (35:19). Rachel is a tragic figure, who would play a role in the future of the Jewish People. Her name would appear throughout the Tanach.  

When focusing on both Rivka and Rachel we have to realize a number of aspects as to why they were not only women active in Ya’acov’s life, but also two matriarchs and motherly figures in the development of the Israelite nation and ultimately the Jewish People:

  • Rivka was Lavan’s sister and Rachel his daughter. Both were seen as moral women despite the evil influences of Lavan. 
  • Both were led to their loving husbands, in different ways, at a well, which contained pure water.
  • Both loved Ya’acov and were major forces in his life.
  • Both had painful infertility issues and died before Ya’acov. 
  • Both were matriarchs of the Jewish People, who were role models. They were strong women who loved their families and were proactive throughout their lives. Rivka made sure that Ya’acov would be given the household bracha, while Rachel, who despite having fertility issues, was loyal to Ya’acov and the family. She would be buried at the entrance to Beit Lechem and was seen as the matriarch who weeped for the children of Israel to return home to Eretz Yisrael. I am sure both Rivka and Rachel were close, especially when they were growing up together in Haran, despite their evil brother and father Lavan. 
  • Both performed acts of gemilut chassadim, acts of lovingkindness. Rivka would feed the camels of Eliezer while Rachel showed both hachnassat orchim, hospitality and hakarat hatov (recognizing Ya’acov’s courage and kindness) at the wells beside their family home.

In all of the above narratives we see our ancestors being proactive in the lives of their families. They make "things" happen for the good of everyone around them.

While Parshat VaYishlach was my Bar Mitzvah portion from many moons ago, my other personal connection to it is that I also lost my mother after she gave birth to my sister. Despite knowing her for the first three years of my life, my mother’s influence was always evident through the stories my cousins and her many siblings relayed to me. I know my late mother Esther still lives in both me and my sister. We were also blessed that my father would remarry, to a wonderful person, Miriam. She stepped into our biological mother’s shoes and helped bring both of us up. Both our mothers, Miriam and Esther, were equally influential in our lives as were Rivka and Rachel in the lives of Ya’acov, Esav, Yoseph and Benjamin. We sometimes take for granted the positive influences our parents and siblings have in our lives. This parsha, for me, is a wake up call. I must never forget where I am from and the upbringing that I was blessed to receive from a loving, caring, family and community.

B’vracha and Shabbat Shalom.


Gary Weisserman, Head of School

If you’ll pardon a little kvelling, Thursday morning I had the pleasure of joining our third-grade students and their families as our students presented their “synagogue projects.” Culminating a whole unit of study about the role of the synagogue in Jewish life (their classes also toured local synagogues), each group of students used the new Innovation Lab to construct model holy spaces and to present about synagogues around the world. It was a wonderful event, made all the better by the ruach that was evident throughout the activities.

While listening to our students’ reports, I was reminded of this week’s parsha, Vayeitzei. On his journey from Beersheva to Haran, Jacob has a dream of a ladder to heaven, with angels climbing and descending. When he awakens, he declares, “Ma nora hamakom hazeh”—how awesome is this place! It’s a seminal moment in the Torah, one that has rightfully received enormous attention and inquiry from scholars l’dor v’ador.

Sadly, climbing to heaven—even metaphorically—is reserved for angels, but since the destruction of the Temple, Jews have done the next best thing, establishing synagogues as our places of worship. As we all know, synagogues are central to every Jewish community, but the role of “sacred space” is nevertheless different in Judaism than in other religions. Jews don’t consider synagogues holy in precisely the same way as, say, Christianity considers a church to be holy. For us, the holiness of the place arises largely from the people inside, which is why a minyan doesn’t have to be held in a specific place and is considered valid anywhere ten Jews pray.

But studying synagogues isn’t just an opportunity to learn about history and culture; it’s a chance for our students to engage in deep inquiry about key Jewish values, like kedusha (making the mundane holy), kehilla (community), hidur mitzvah (beautifying Jewish observance), shalshelet hakabalah (honoring tradition), and even the differences between keva (ritual) and kavana (intention).  

In this way, our third-grade teachers helped our students perform one of the most sacred acts of all, and caused me to think about our amazing school community and exclaim, once again, Ma nora hamakom hazeh!

Gary Weisserman, Head of School

I once had a friend who owned a wine shop. His children had been my students, and we maintained our relationship long after the kids had become adults. I enjoyed John’s company (and he had an outstanding selection), so I would often find a reason to stop by the store and kibbitz, invariably leaving with a bottle or two for the next week’s Shabbat.  

My wife had met John several times, and knew of him from the outstanding volunteer work he did bringing together the Jewish and Chaldean (Iraqi Christian) communities, but she had never visited the store. When she finally did, the following exchange left her completely flabbergasted:

“John,” I said, “you know what I like. What do you recommend this week?” He showed me a new Cabernet, then insisted I have a glass with him. “It’s wonderful, as always,” I told him appreciatively. “I’ll take two bottles.”

“Ah, excellent,” he said. “Normally, I ask fifty dollars a bottle, but for you, my friend, forty!”

“No, no,” I exclaimed gravely. “John, I can’t pay only forty. You know it’s worth far more. Let me give you sixty dollars a bottle!”

Both of us gesticulated in an encyclopedic fashion. Dolly looked at us both like we had lost our minds.

“I couldn’t take advantage of you, my friend,” John said (as he had so many times before). “I will give it to you for thirty, and you will take a fourth bottle for free.”

“Absolutely not. No. No. I will take three bottles, and I will pay you sixty-five dollars apiece.”

“You are insulting me! You are my friend and a man of discriminating taste. You will take four bottles for the price of three, and you will only pay twenty dollars a bottle.”

“Fine,” I said, as my wife stared at us in bafflement. “But next time, you must let me pay full price and nothing less!”

We hugged, shook hands and (after much small talk) eventually left. In the car, Dolly practically exploded. “What the heck was that all about?” she asked. “I thought you had gone completely around the bend.”

I explained that this was the dance we always engaged in, that it was expected; that we both knew what the final (and perfectly fair) price would be, but that it would have been the height of rudeness not to follow form. Much later, after moving to the west coast, we learned that other Semitic cultures have similar rules of engagement, most prominently among them the Persian rules of Taaruf—a practice I have come to admire and appreciate.

In this week’s parsha, Chayei Sarah, Abraham engages in a similar sort of “reverse bargaining,” when he insists on paying full freight for Sarah’s gravesite:

"I am a stranger and an inhabitant with you. Give me burial property with you, so that I may bury my dead from before me.” And the sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, "Listen to us, my lord; you are a prince of God in our midst; in the choicest of our graves bury your dead. None of us will withhold his grave from you to bury your dead.”

And Abraham arose and prostrated himself to the people of the land, to the sons of Heth. And he spoke with them, saying, "If it is your will that I bury my dead from before me, listen to me and entreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar. That he may give me the Machpelah (double) Cave, which belongs to him, which is at the end of his field; for a full price let him give it to me in your midst for burial property.”

Now Ephron was sitting in the midst of the sons of Heth, and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth, of all those who had come into the gate of his city, saying, “No, my lord, listen to me. I have given you the field, and the cave that is in it, I have given it to you. Before the eyes of the sons of my people, I have given it to you; bury your dead.”

And Abraham prostrated himself before the people of the land. And he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, "But, if only you would listen to me. I am giving the money for the field; take [it] from me, and I will bury my dead there.” And Ephron replied to Abraham, saying to him, "My lord, listen to me; a [piece of] land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is it between me and you? Bury your dead.” And Abraham listened to Ephron, and Abraham weighed out to Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, accepted by the merchant.

There are many ways to understand Abraham’s actions, among them that he aimed to legitimize a political and economic claim on the land. But I prefer to think of it as a lesson in the rules of hospitality. Abraham, whose tent was famously open on all sides, knew full well that the responsibility of the host always transcended simple courtesy. It is from him that our value for Jewish hospitality springs: give more than you must, extend every comfort, and remember that the needs of the guests are always paramount.

Leon Covitz, Director of Jewish Life and Learning

What’s the Point of Assessments?

Currently, at Bernard Zell, there is much activity amongst the school’s faculty. Report cards, as you know, are being prepared and the entire staff is getting ready for parent-teacher conferences. If you go into the teacher workrooms you will see many of the faculty with their laptops open, papers on the desk and colorful projects neatly stacked up. We are encouraged to ask the question: what’s the purpose for assessments through assignments, projects, quizzes etc.? Why all the fuss? Secondly, who benefits (or does not benefit) from them, and are they for the teachers or the students, or both?

This week’s parsha, I believe, offers a few answers to the above questions. In Pirkei Avot - Ethics (or Chapters) of our Fathers  5:3 (also known as Massechet Avot) it is taught “Avraham was tested 10 times.” The tenth and final test is the one found in our Torah reading in chapter 22. It is, of course, when God asks Avraham to take Yitzchak to a place which He would show him, and where his beloved son was to be offered to God.

The Akeidah (binding of Yitzchak) was to be Avraham’s final assessment and assignment. For many years I have struggled to translate the first verse in Genesis 22:1, “It happened after these events that God tested Avraham.” The p’shat (simple meaning) of nissa is “tested” although it can refer to the mast of a ship that can be seen for miles. This can be seen as a metaphor for a good person whose righteousness is seen by everyone in their community. I see the “test” also being an assignment. Theologians, as well as commentators from both Judaism and Christianity, have been challenged by the idea that God needed to “test” Avraham. Does He not already know what is going to happen? I have struggled with this for many years until I began reading Midrash Beresheit Rabba 52A, which contains one of the earliest collections of midrashim.

From a historical context, this midrash appears to be a rabbinic response to the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE) when many Jews were rejecting and converting out of Judaism. The rabbis were looking for biblical role models who could inspire the people. For them, the destruction of the Second Temple was a test for the subjugated Jewish nation living in Eretz Yisrael. In this midrash the rabbis saw this more than a test. So why was Avraham tested? Below is the midrash:

* The Lord tries the righteous, etc. (Ps. 11:5). R. Yonatan said: A potter does not examine defective vessels, because he cannot give them a single blow without breaking them. What then does he examine? Only the sound vessels, for he will not break them even with many blows. Similarly, the Holy One, blessed be He, tests not the wicked but the righteous, as it says,'

* The Lord tries the righteous. R. Yonatan said: When a flax worker knows that his flax is of good quality, the more he beats it the more it improves and the more it glistens; but if it is of inferior quality, he cannot give it one knock without it splitting.

* Similarly, the Lord does not test the wicked but only the righteous, as it says, The Lord tries the righteous. R. Eleazar said: When a man possesses two cows, one strong and the other feeble, upon which does he put the yoke? Surely upon the strong one Similarly, God tests none but the righteous, as it says, The Lord tries the righteous.

Notice that the sages, in the midrash, use images that are familiar for an agrarian public. Yet each proem contained a very important lesson. How does the potter sell his pots? He bangs the pots that will not break because they are the ones that will sound good and not crack. It is the same with the one who God assesses, according to the midrash. It is only worthwhile to test the one who will succeed and be able to be His ambassador.

So why does the merchant beat the flax? The more the merchant beats the flax the more its quality improves. Therefore God tests Avraham on many levels because it improves him as a person.

Why does the farmer place the yoke only on the strong ox? Rabbi Eleazar implies that God only tests those who can succeed in it. Perhaps, replace the word “test” with “assess.”

In my opinion, this is also why teachers have to give out assessments, tests, quizzes, creative projects and even homework. First of all, the Akeidah may be seen as an assessment for Avraham. Of course, God knows that Avraham would pass His final test. Alternatively, perhaps the assignment is for God. So why does God “test” the righteous? Because not only does He knows that they will pass, but they will be God’s ambassadors in the world. The tzaddikim—the righteous—are the ones who will model moral, ethical and religious behavior that will be integral to a society based on hessed and mishpat—acts of lovingkindness and justice—as Avraham did throughout his life. So perhaps the three midrashim can also reflect how teachers may see the importance of assignments, tests and quizzes as part of the assessment process. The teacher may see it as a way to show what has been taught in class, or that giving different assignments challenges the students even more. Finally, the teacher may give out the assignment because they know that the students have the ability to succeed in it. So please remember some of the reasons that may be behind assessments and assignments and enjoy your parent teacher conferences and finding out about your child’s progress. 

Leon Covitz, Director of Jewish Life & Jewish Learning

I’ll never forget 2 p.m. on Thursday, November 6, 1980. I was sitting quietly and fully focused in my high school European history class, which I loved. We were discussing the French Revolution and its influence in Europe during the 19th century. Suddenly, on the school's PA system I heard the following: “Would Covitz, from lower sixth year, go immediately to the headmaster’s office.” The school secretary’s voice was slightly rough and there was no “please.” Worst of all, the announcement was heard by everyone in the school. Initially, I thought there was a mistake. Why am I being called out on the school PA system? Nervously, I got up out of my seat and made my way to the headmaster’s office. What have I done to warrant the whole school’s afternoon classes being interrupted and its 3,000 students and teachers having to hear that I have been sent to the head of school’s study? I gingerly walked to his secretary’s desk, who told me to take a seat. I sat down, not knowing what to expect. Suddenly, I was summoned to the headmaster’s study. Nervously, I remained standing until he told me to sit down. “Covitz,” he said in a strong voice, “you have been accepted to Jews College in London and you have to leave in the morning. Return all your books to your teachers then go straight home. You need to pack. By the way, good luck.” I was stunned and gobsmacked, I had just been accepted to early admissions to the college of my choice. My life was about to go in a different direction. I had to leave my parents’ home and the community in which I grew up so quickly—without even saying goodbye to all my friends. We neither had mobile phones or computers with wifi when I was at school. Within a few minutes, my life was turned upside down. There was much excitement but also much apprehension as I packed and my parents organized for my journey to London. A new adventure was about to begin for me that would change my life forever.

In this week’s parsha Avraham (originally called Avram) is summoned by God to leave his land, his place of birth, his parent’s home, and go to a place which God would show him. Avraham was the first Jew to make aliya—go and live in Israel—the spiritual center of the Jewish People. It was there that he and Sarah (Sari) would be the first patriarch and matriarch of many nations, including the Jewish People. It would be in Eretz Yisrael that the covenant (brit) with God would be established. God assures Avraham that he and Sarah would have many descendants, who would eventually be given Eretz Yisrael. We are not told how Avraham was feeling when God spoke to him but he was willing to go on the journey. Within the parsha it is quite apparent that Avraham is a special person. Not only does he listen to God but we see that he is a person of action—goes down to Egypt, rescues his nephew Lot, circumcises himself, pleads for a city that is about to be destroyed, to name but a few. He also gains the respect of his neighbors and acquires many flocks and herds. Most importantly, Avraham has a positive influence on the people who are part of his entourage. He created a just society and trained his disciples to be good, honest, loyal and committed citizens. His followers are called chanichav from the Hebrew word chinuch—education. Avraham was a teacher who led by example. At end of this week’s Torah reading, his name is changed from Avram to Avraham (Av hamon goyim—the father of many nations). Avraham has been chosen to be God’s representative in a world that still has much evil within it. Avraham’s lech lecha event was not only a seminal one for Avraham but was one for the development of Judaism and the Jewish People.

I will never forget my Lech Lecha moment which I commemorated last Wednesday. I often think, what my life would have looked like if I had rejected the incredible opportunity to go down to London to study and live. Ultimately, I know I made the right decision, since I feel that I live a life full of purpose and meaning. I have an awesome, supportive family and loyal friends who have been part of my life over three continents.

Finally, if I had not acted on my Lech Lecha moment I would not have been part of the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School community, which I cherish and do not take for granted. Wishing all of you a Shabbat Shalom and may your journeys—whether short or long—take you to safe places where you will have the ability to fulfill your potential, have incredible adventures and be active members within the community you decide to live.



Gary Weisserman, Head of School

This week’s Parsha, Noach, is about as chock full of parables, lessons and historical context as any in the Torah—so much so, in fact, that it’s almost difficult to select a focus for a single d’var torah. You could randomly place a finger on the text and find something worth an entire course of study. You have the story of the flood and the world’s renewal; the Noahide laws; Noah’s invention (!) of wine, and his later foray into intentional drunkenness; the story of Nimrod; the Tower of Babel… the list goes on and on. To me, the most interesting phrase of the entire section is in the very first sentence: 

נֹ֗חַ אִ֥ישׁ צַדִּ֛יק תָּמִ֥ים הָיָ֖ה בְּדֹֽרֹתָ֑יו

Noah, the Torah tells us, was a “righteous man, blameless in his generation.” The backdrop is clear, of course: yetzer hara (the inclination to do evil) has plagued mankind since the days of Adam and Eve, and in Noah’s era God determines to wipe humanity out and start again. Noah, meanwhile, “walks with God,” and is given the burden of being the post-delugic Adam.  

But one might rightly ask: if Noah was worthy of this distinction, why include any qualifier? Why refer to him as righteous and blameless, but only in his generation? Is the Torah damning Noah with faint praise, by saying, “he was pretty good…for his time?” And are we, therefore, to understand that righteousness is to be measured in relative terms? (That seems unlikely, insofar as it is at least somewhat at odds with what would later become a mitzvah-centric culture.) Or are we to understand that there is a distinction to be made, as some commentators have claimed, between being “righteous” (in the eyes of God) and “blameless” (in the eyes of men)?  

For me, a compelling way of understanding the distinction is this: Noah was blameless in his generation, in that he was without sin, but could not be considered righteous because he did not speak out against the evil of his contemporaries. That would be consistent with the Torah’s later injunctions not to stand idly by, and our obligation to reprove our kin when they do wrong. From this, we might conclude that it is not enough to live a righteous life—we are also obliged to help others do so as well.

Gary Weisserman, Head of School

I’m a grammar nerd. I freely confess it. Years of cold stares from unappreciative conversation partners (and one comically abbreviated dinner date) have, for the most part, taught me to keep my corrective voice to myself, but privately? One use of the term “irregardless” and I’m silently judging you.

For those of us for whom Hebrew is a second language, rather than our native tongue, Hebrew provides a veritable bounty of new grammatical mysteries to explore (which should make us dikduk dorks, no?). The “vowels optional” nature of Hebrew makes murky some things that ought to be clear as day. Sometime around my bar mitzvah, I was blindsided by the realization that the written Torah did not possess Hebrew vowels. I don’t know how this bit of information had previously eluded me, but I distinctly remember my seventh grade rabbinics teacher, Mr. Glazer (z”l), staring at me with a mixture of frustration and resignation when I asked, “How are we supposed to read this?”  

A profoundly patient man, he gravely explained that while the vowels weren’t written in the Torah, every nikkud (Hebrew vowels) was nevertheless passed down orally and considered to be holy writ.  

“That’s great,” I remember saying, nodding politely, “but I was asking something totally different: how am I, personally, a non-native speaker, supposed to read this? I mean, literally—how do I know how which vowel is used and where?” To this day, I’m still not fully comfortable reading Hebrew without vowels. I read the word “מספר” and I wonder: am I reading the word for “counting?” Does the writer mean “storytelling?” Or is someone coming from the barber? And don’t get me started on דבר. Is this a thing? Am I commanded to speak? Or are we talking about  the plague of pestilence? Context only tells you so much.

As it turns out, syntactic uncertainty appears immediately in the Torah—like, in the very first syllable. That first sentence is the one line of Torah almost every Jewish kid knows by heart: Be’reshit bara Adonai et ha shamayim v’et ha-aretz. We usually translate it as, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” But that first word—actually, the very first sound—has prompted a centuries-old debate, with luminaries including Rashi and ibn Ezra weighing in on the matter. It’s such a strange construction. The first vowel is assumed to be a shva (that’s the vertical, two-dotted vowel, under the letter, the one that looks like a colon), but the literal translation of the word would then be, “In the beginning of, God created,” which clearly doesn’t make any English sense. If the intent had been to mean, “In the beginning,” it would have been more correct to change the shva to a kamatz (the vowel that looks like a capital T), so that it reads “Bareshit.”  

Depending on your philosophical bent, you might think: is this a simple transcription error?  Possibly; but really, the first syllable of the most closely inspected text in human history? This seems unlikely.  Is it possible that linguistic convention has changed over time in some miniscule way that is otherwise invisible? Most scholars doubt it, since every other appearance of the phrase in the torah assumes a trailing preposition.  That leaves only one other option that I can see, which is to ascribe specific intent.

But what could that be?  Is there an implied virtual noun, so that it might be read as, “In the beginning of ___, God created …?” (Imagine saying that with an encyclopedic, circular hand gesture.) Some have argued that the phrasing is intended to imply a sense of timelessness, that God created and has never stopped, and will never stop, creating the world. Still others have argued that it is a mystical clue that might be understood by delving into the gematriya, the cipher-based school of thought in which every Hebrew letter and vowel, and thus every Hebrew word, has a numeric value with its own meaning (for the unfamiliar, Hebrew letters are historically also used as numbers—hence the number 18 means “chai”).

I’ve puzzled over this at length and, really, I’m not at all sure which I believe. I do know this, however: for those of us who enjoy language games, there is nothing more intricate, more complex or more compelling than a page of Torah!

Leon Covitz, Head of Jewish Life and Jewish Learning

Shalom and Chag Sameach—season greetings. In fact, I am starting to write this Dvar Torah on the eve of Sukkot. What a meaningful and inspirational start to the new Jewish year. It began with the confident, optimistic atmosphere of Rosh Hashannah. It continued, a week later, with the solemnity and intensity of Yom Kippur, which ended with the final, long tekiya gedola of the shofar. When you read this Dvar Torah, we will be in the midst of the simcha-infused festival of tabernacles, Sukkot.

This series of tishrei chaggim—festivals—is a happy one for me, although it is tinged with some sadness. Yoni Jesner and I were very good friends. We both grew up in Glasgow, Scotland. Yoni was much younger than me. He loved being Jewish and took nothing for granted. Every time I visited my hometown I would see Yoni, usually in synagogue or at his home, either in the morning or throughout Shabbat. Yoni was always helping someone. Something needed to be completed and Yoni would be the one who volunteered. You see, Yoni loved his community and the Glasgow community loved Yoni Jesner. He wanted to study medicine when he graduated high school in order to help heal others less fortunate than him. Yoni aspired to be a medical doctor because he felt that was his calling.

At morning prayers on Friday, July 6, 2002, a few days before his brother Ari was getting married, we spoke for the last time. I told Yoni that I was going to be teaching Talmud. He looked into his backpack and said, “I have something for you.” He gave me his lexicon of Talmudic words, phrases and expressions. I told Yoni that I wasn’t sure when I would see him again, since I was in Atlanta and he was about to go to Israel for his gap year. Yoni told me not to worry we would see each other soon. We bid each other farewell. Two months later Yoni was on a bus with his cousin in Tel Aviv, on his way to visit friends. Suddenly, there was an explosion, an act of terrorism. Yoni was taken to hospital, but succumbed to his wounds the next day.

I’ll never forget the Friday morning, on the eve of Sukkot, when my sister called me in Atlanta from Yerushalayim. I, along with Yoni’s family, friends, community and Yeshiva colleagues were in total shock. His parents, Marcia and Joseph, made the decision to donate four of his organs to people who were desperately waiting for a transplant. His kidney was donated to a seven-year-old Palestinian girl, Yasmin Abu Rumeileh. Without it Yasmin would have died. So even after his death Yoni was able to give life to other people whom he had never met. This summed up Yoni Jesner. When going through his belongings a list of 60 of Yoni’s aphorisms were found. They contained life lessons. Two of Yoni’s aphorisms which I connected with were: “If you don’t do it, who will?” and “Do every question on the paper.”

So what is Yoni’s connection to Sukkot? When I think of Sukkot and what it represents to both myself and the Jewish People it reminds me of Yoni Jesner, of blessed memory. I remember him because Yoni personified for me this joyful festival. One of the names of Sukkot is zman simchatenu, the season of our happiness. Yoni was full of happiness. Always with a smile, always asking how he could help, and always doing what he said he would do. Another name is Chag Ha’asif, the festival of gathering. Yoni would be the one who would bring people together both in times of celebration and in commemoration.  

I was never able to return Yoni’s Talmudic lexicon to him, but I still have it today. When it is used I always think of Yoni and his selflessness and acts of lovingkindness. So when I celebrate Sukkot, I think of Yoni Jesner and especially the song mitzvah gedola lee’yot b’simcha tamid—it is a great mitzvah to always be happy. Yoni Jesner personified this verse. When I feel a little sad, I think of my good friend and what he would say. 

Yoni’s family set up a foundation in the United Kingdom which continues his legacy and encourages Jews wherever they are to perform acts of gemillut chassadim, acts of kindness. I am blessed to be part of Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, who not only value helping the community but doing so with a smile.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of you both a Shabbat Shalom and a Chag Sameach. Enjoy celebrating the final days of Sukkot.


Leon Covitz, Head of Jewish Life and Jewish Learning

We have now reached the four intermediate days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Jews throughout the world are about to enter actual sukkot—temporary homes for seven days. Our relationship with God returns from the heavens of Yom Kippur to the more earthly Sukkot—the festival of tabernacles. Two additional names are Chag Ha’Asif, the ingathering of the last harvests and Zman Simchatenu, the season of our joy. Three of the main themes of our upcoming chag, festival, are God as protector, the centrality of rain/water in our daily lives and the mitzvah to be happy. 

In my life, I have witnessed a number of times when rain has become both destructive and a life-saving miracle. I have experienced flooding in the Emek Yizrael valley and the destruction of fields of barley, just before it was supposed to be harvested. Yet, I have also seen rain bring brachot, blessings, when young crops have suddenly breached the surface of the soil on their way to being sources of food for humanity. As a Jewish farmer, I have witnessed being in a drought in Israel, while I was serving in the IDF in 1991. Special prayers for rain were inserted into our daily prayers. One even became an instant hit on Israeli radio, nationwide. When I see rain I feel much joy, especially if there has been a mini-drought and the earth is waiting to be drenched in it. 

This all reminds me of this week’s short but very poignant parsha, Ha’azinu. It comes in the form of a song and I love singing. At the beginning of our Torah reading, Moshe appeals through a song to the heavens and the earth, as God’s eternal witnesses, and then focuses on water/dew.

May My lesson come down as dew

Like showers on young growth

Like droplets on the grass.

For the name of the Lord I proclaim;

Give glory to the Lord. 

(Deuteronomy 32: 2-3 - JPS translation 1999). 

Torah is often described as taking the forms of both dew and showers. Just like the rain showers and droplets can be absorbed into fertile soil, so to can Torah come forth and be absorbed if it falls into an environment or society that is open to its teachings and words of wisdom. Here, at Bernard Zell, we appreciate both the rain and the chochma, wisdom, of Torah. 

So this year, when you are in the sukkah, which is often seen as the wedding canopy for God and the Jewish People, take a deep breath, look up to the skies and feel free to be thankful that we usually dwell in strong houses that protect us from the elements. At the same time, be cognizant that our sukkah is our tardes or time capsule (thanks, Dr. Who). It has been around for thousands of years to remind us of the Israelites’ wandering in the desert. During Sukkot it is a holy place where one has the ability to feel God’s presence. It can come in various forms; through words and songs of Torah which contain the messages of harmony and peace, and the showers of love for God’s people. Alternately, just sit back, relax and capture the precious moments inside this flimsy, yet holy structure.

Finally, when you feel a rain shower outside, go sing the title song from the famous 1952 film Singin’ in the Rain featuring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. Realize it’s a blessing from the heavens for the earth in more ways than one. May we all be blessed with a year of rain falling in its season, Torah learning and global peace and harmony. Let us count all our brachot and be forever grateful for all that we receive from our Bernard Zell community. May we also be blessed with the ability to give back to our community, when, or even before, our new beautiful building is officially opened in the next few weeks. 

Wishing all our community and the Jewish People an early Chag Sameach and, of course, a Shabbat Shabbat.

Ps. If you decide to go out and enjoy the rain please bring your shampoo and conditioner. Show that you really mean it.

Gary Weisserman, Head of School

The Assembly: Responsibility, Authority and Sovereignty

This week’s parsha, Vayalech (“And he went”), focuses on the very last day of Moshe Rabbenu’s life. There is much to discuss here, but this week I want to focus on the section that commands us to hold the Hachel (“Assembly”) ceremony—the public Torah reading that occurs every seven years during Sukkot:

“And Moses instructed them as follows: Every seventh year, the year set for remission, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God in the place that He will choose, you shall read this Teaching aloud in the presence of all Israel.  Gather the people—men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities—that they may hear and so learn to revere the LORD your God and to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching.” (Deuteronomy 31:10-11)

This oration is all the more fascinating when you consider the logistics involved. Biblically speaking, this is the only public event for which every Jew was commanded to attend (this mitzvah is only in place when all Jews live in Israel, though some Jews, especially the Lubavitch, encourage it as a time to connect and study). The king and his house were responsible for organizing the event. They would build a special wooden platform, and the king himself was obliged to read from the Torah:

...Every individual should see himself as if he is now being commanded, and it is from G‑d's mouth that he is hearing these words. For the king is only the messenger to announce G‑d's words … The talk of all the nation – men, women and children – would then be: "Why have we assembled for this large gathering?" And the answer would be: "To hear the words of the Torah—our essence, glory and pride!" This would lead them to praise the Torah and speak of its glorious worth, and implant within their hearts a desire and motivation to study and know G‑d. Thus they will merit the ultimate good, and G‑d will rejoice in His creations. (Sefer haChinuch mitzvah 612)

Earlier, God seems to more or less grudgingly accept the notion of a king, agreeing that when the Jews had settled in Israel, they would want to be “like other nations” and choose a leader (Deuteronomy 17:14). But that didn’t mean the king should have complete authority; indeed, 

When he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Teaching (Torah) written for him on a scroll by the levitical priests. Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God, to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching as well as these laws. (Deuteronomy 17:18–19).

Seen one way, this aspect of the Hachel was an equalizer. The king was seated above the masses, who stood; but even while in this favored position, he would be expected to proclaim God’s word.  

It was a powerful, and public, message about how to wield authority: that leaders hold enormous power; but the king’s power is plenipotentiary, not sovereign; that even the king sits in service; and that the king is finally responsible for ensuring God’s word, through the Torah, is heard.

Gary Weisserman, Head of School

If you're a film buff, or even just of a certain age, you'll probably remember the hilarious scene in "Annie Hall" in which Woody Allen becomes irritated by a fellow moviegoer's loud pontification on the works of Marshall McLuhan. From stage right, Allen magically produces Marshall McLuhan himself, who immediately decries the know-it-all (a media professor from Columbia), informing him that he is absolutely wrong and clearly "knows nothing of my work!" It’s a classic film moment, and if we're going to be honest, the kind of fantasy appeal to authority that almost everyone has wished for at some point. From deep within the reptilian parts of our brain, we chuckle at the schadenfreude—the first time we see it. Upon multiple viewings, though, one begins to feel a kind of sympathy for the professor, seeing how Allen’s moment of intellectual gratification comes at the expense of another’s indignity. And believe it or not, the scene harkens back to a central debate of the Jewish tradition.  

It must be said that our approach to religious and intellectual authority is fundamentally different than many, perhaps even most, religions. Collective, popular and frequently reconsidered interpretations of religious texts are at the heart of our intellectual and spiritual traditions, rather than a privilege reserved for the few. This is highlighted in this week’s parsha, Nitzavim. In his final words to the Jewish people, Moshe Rabbeinu reminds us that the Torah is, and must be, accessible to all. “It is not in heaven,” Moses says, “that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?' Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?' Rather, [this] thing is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.”

Of course, not all matters of the Torah are as clear cut as we’d like, and certainly not as they pertain to modern sensibilities; and so an exceptional premium is placed on using human judgment to make sense of it. Fully aware that where there are two Jews there are six opinions, the Torah is clear on how those decisions should be made: “Where there is a controversy between an individual and the many, the halakhah (Jewish law) follows the many" (Ber. 9a).  Drawing on the opinions of those whose wisdom we acknowledge as legitimate (in Rabbinic times, the Sanhedrin; in modern America, the leaders and intellectuals of the various Jewish movements), we are enjoined to follow the rule of the majority, rather than leaving interpretation to the select few who stake a claim to divine knowledge. In Jewish matters, in short, there is no Marshall McLuhan waiting in the wings.  

If you’ll forgive a small but significant dive into a different part of Jewish literature, there is a famous (and much debated) Talmudic story that illustrates how complicated and complex this process can become. In “The Oven of Akhnai,” the rabbinic sages find themselves debating a fairly intricate point of halakhah, about whether items baked in a particular kind of oven should be considered kosher:

After failing to convince the Rabbis logically, Rabbi Eliezer said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, this carob tree will prove it. The carob tree was uprooted from its place one hundred cubits, and some say four hundred cubits. The Rabbis said to him: One does not cite halakhic proof from the carob tree. Rabbi Eliezer then said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, the stream will prove it. The water in the stream turned backward and began flowing in the opposite direction. They said to him: One does not cite halakhic proof from a stream.

Right off the bat we have a powerful statement: even if extraordinary evidence impresses upon us to the contrary, we nevertheless have an obligation to trust our reason, and the deliberative processes of our wisest, to guide us—and to ignore the existence of “bogus” phenomena, no matter how remarkable.

"Rabbi Eliezer then said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, the walls of the study hall will prove it. The walls of the study hall leaned inward and began to fall. Rabbi Yehoshua scolded the walls and said to them: If Torah scholars are contending with each other in matters of halakha, what is the nature of your involvement in this dispute? The Gemara relates: The walls did not fall because of the deference due Rabbi Yehoshua, but they did not straighten because of the deference due Rabbi Eliezer, and they still remain leaning.

More amazing still: when threatened with danger from on high, even when the very walls of our institutions threaten to collapse upon us, we must entrust our fate to the give and take of human agencies.

"Rabbi Eliezer then said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, Heaven will prove it. A Divine Voice emerged from Heaven and said: Why are you differing with Rabbi Eliezer, as the halakha is in accordance with his opinion in every place that he expresses an opinion.

"Rabbi Yehoshua stood on his feet and said: It is written: “It is not in heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:12) … Since the Torah was already given at Mount Sinai, we do not regard a Divine Voice, as You already wrote at Mount Sinai, in the Torah: “After a majority to incline” (Exodus 23:2). Since the majority of Rabbis disagreed with Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion, the halakha is not ruled in accordance with his opinion. 

What a statement! Lo bashamayim hi—[the word of God] is no longer in heaven, but instead here on earth. We are to accept the result of rational, human debate, even when confronted with a bat kol, the voice of God himself!

“The Gemara relates: Years after, Rabbi Natan encountered Elijah the prophet and said to him: What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do at that time, when Rabbi Yehoshua issued his declaration? Elijah said to him: The Holy One, Blessed be He, smiled and said: My children have triumphed over Me; My children have triumphed over Me."

God’s amusement at being defeated is truly a remarkable image—so much so that you would think the moral of this story was clear cut. Indeed, the story is frequently told as having ended there, but the more nuanced lesson lies in what happens next. His judgment having been rejected, the Sages commanded that the items Rabbi Eliezer had declared pure be burned. This results in a loss of face, and damage to the dignity of a great scholar, which itself angers God in a way that being proven wrong didn’t:

“And even Rabban Gamliel, the Nasi of the Sanhedrin at Yavne, the head of the Sages who were responsible for the decision to ostracize Rabbi Eliezer, was coming on a boat at the time, and a large wave swelled over him and threatened to drown him. Rabban Gamliel said: It seems to me that this is only for the sake of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, as God punishes those who mistreat others. Rabban Gamliel stood on his feet and said: Master of the Universe, it is revealed and known before You that neither was it for my honor that I acted when ostracizing him, nor was it for the honor of the house of my father that I acted; rather, it was for Your honor, so that disputes will not proliferate in Israel. In response, the sea calmed from its raging.”

The Talmud is very clear on the prohibition about embarrassing another, stating outright that “one who shames another in public, causing the blood to drain from his face, is comparable to a murderer.” But it’s clear (from related writings) that Rabbis Akiva and Yehoshoua set out not to humiliate Rabbi Eliezer, but to prevent halachik disagreement among the Jews. So what do we make of the fact that God was pleased by our insistence that the Torah was no longer God’s to explain to us, pleased even by the fact that we obeyed God when it wasn’t God’s intent for us to obey—yet is angered at the Sages for acting strongly on the result, because the collateral damage was so hurtful?

To me, the story—and Moshe’s words in Nitzavim—are reminders that Judaism celebrates nuance, and balances the value of both words and actions. It’s a complicated message, really: the Torah is for the people; the Torah is of the people, and it is only for us to use reason to interpret; but it is never for us to use reason as a weapon. Moreover, our tradition mandates that reason be subject to the crucible of debate; but important as heated debate is—so important as to trump a divine voice—we must nevertheless engage in such a way as to protect the dignity and status of those who are involved. Kindness, and a deep concern for the welfare of others, matter most. These are among the many ways in which Judaism places such a powerful emphasis on the ethics of the spoken and written words—because they can be at least as powerful, or as damaging, as action.

Leon Covitz, Director of Jewish Studies and Jewish Life

Last Tuesday, I had the privilege, along with some students and staff members, of attending the annual JUF luncheon. The hall was packed and there was much simcha as we heard a number of speeches about the important daily work that the Federation does in Chicago. There were also presentations from community members who had gone above and beyond what was asked of them and as a result, excelled in their respective fields. Mrs. Anna Hartman, whose son Josiah is an 8th grade student at Bernard Zell, was honored for her service to early childhood education.

At this annual gathering, I also felt what it must have been like for our people during the time of settling in the Land of Israel after Moses’ death and Joshua replacing him and leading the way. This week’s parsha of Ki Tavo begins with a very important commandment. When the Israelites first entered Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, they were required to bring their first produce to the Cohen (priest). There is a machloket (disagreement) between Rashi, a medieval Rabbi, and Sifrei, a classic midrashic work. Rashi says, only after the Israelites had conquered the Land—14 years after entering it—were they required to bring the first fruits. Sifrei disagrees and states that the obligation to fulfill this mitzvah takes place as soon as they enter the Land—even though it would take seven years for the first-fruits to be ready.

So what is the difference between Rashi and the Sifrei? The process of hakarat hatov (acknowledging the good one does) starts daily with the prayer Modeh ani when waking up. As the day goes on, we become more alert, and after have actively experienced God’s goodness our thanks are also more meaningful. Both arguments agree that the Bikkurim (first fruits) should be brought when the people have entered the land, but both may also be looking at who the mitzvah is aimed at and when it needs to brought. Does that mean there is less of an appreciation with either interpretation? Certainly not. The bringing of the Bikkurim was the culmination before the process would begin again, in the new agricultural year. We are both appreciative during the process and then at its culmination—at the end of harvest.

We have reached the end of the Jewish year of 5779 and are about to begin the new Jewish year of 5780 in less than two weeks. Throughout this past year, each of us has constantly been learning and adding to both our Jewish and general knowledge, as well as our daily life experiences. The end of the year provides us with the opportunity to realize how our daily lives have been enriched by God’s “presents” and “presence.” Hakarat hatov is on-going. At certain times, we gather together to acknowledge the good that is being done by individuals in our community. It is up to us to appreciate all the good and “gather up” all that we learn and experience in our classes, new playground, art room, dining room, hallways, new gym, both from our teachers and peers. 

Thank you to both the Jewish Federation of Chicago and our own school community for all the time and effort that is put into making the work of both Jewish organizations so meaningful and important. In fact, hakarat hatov should be shown to all the Jewish organizations that reach out to the larger community thus making ours such a dynamic, caring and loving one. We are grateful to all of you throughout the year, not just when we come together and celebrate. Shabbat Shalom.

Brian Barasch, Director of Marketing and Communications

Bernard Zell alumni enter the next phase of their education, and the rest of their lives, with the skills to advocate for themselves, their community and the world. Now, nearly a decade since her graduation from BZ, Rachel Galowich (Class of 2010), continues to embody these values as she pursues a career in civil engineering and sustainable design.

Rachel began at Bernard Zell in nursery school and continued all the way through until her graduation in eighth grade, so her ties to this community still run deep. Even today she has fond memories of her classes with Mr. Keitel, Ms. Wexler and Dr. Ellison. And while her interest in architecture first emerged in middle school, it was some of the less concrete skills that continue to stick with her today.

“Dr. Ellison left a lasting impact,” said Rachel. “He infused life skills into his classes, rather than only asking us to read literature. The first few weeks were just learning to be a good human. One day he came into class acting really, really harsh—completely out of character—and even staged a fight with our student teacher. He was teaching us to be upstanders, not bystanders.” 

Since graduation, Rachel went on to Walter Payton College Prep for high school where her inquisitive spirit allowed her to keep exploring until she found the path that best aligned with her true interests, and ultimately decided to focus on the engineering side of architecture. After her graduation from Payton, she took those skills to Cambridge where she majored in Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT and today is continuing her studies in Sustainable Design and Construction in pursuit of a master's at Stanford University.

Through all of these experiences, Rachel still considers Chicago home and sees Bernard Zell as having been foundational to everything she has accomplished since. In fact, this past summer was her first solid chunk of time back in town, and in addition to serving as a City of Chicago Mayoral Fellow, she was also able to reconnect with some old friends. The experience of working on major Chicago policy issues, hearing from top city leadership and touring government facilities was juxtaposed against time back home with family and friends. Altogether it was an excellent encapsulation of Bernard Zell’s academic, social and emotional lessons applied to the real world.

As she moves toward the completion of her graduate work, Rachel is looking forward to coming home to Chicago as she explores opportunities in the world of engineering, planning and consulting. But no matter where she ends up, it’s clear she’s prepared for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Leon Covitz, Director of Jewish Studies and Jewish Life

Does the time 3:59.4 mean anything to you? What about the date May 5, 1954? Anyone heard of Sir Dr. Roger Bannister? What was he known for? Before we hear about him, I want you to know how excited I am about the sports and wellness programs that have already gotten underway at Bernard Zell. It’s inspirational to see how athletes are constantly working on their personal bests— שיא אישי—in their respective sports. They practice so hard, putting in both the time and effort, and often producing performances that are out of this world. To feel the athletes’ excitement when they break their own personal best, or a record, is incredibly special.

It reminds me of a short passage (Deuteronomy 22) in this week’s Torah reading Ki Tetzei. In this parsha we are instructed that one is not permitted to ignore certain situations which affect the possessions of one’s neighbor. We have to be sensitive to others, and if you find something that is not yours, a serious effort must be made to return it to its rightful owner. It is something that we need to practice. We must be more cognizant of the other. There is even an obligation to attend to an injured animal that is not yours. It cannot be ignored. We are required to go out of our way and help it. The caring and compassionate side of one’s character needs to be displayed and nurtured. One should be prepared to put in both time and effort, and go out of one’s way to continuously achieve personal bests in the acts of gemillut chassadim—lovingkindness.

So how do we translate this into our lives? First of all, we are blessed that we entered the new school year just before the hebrew month of Elul, when the shofar is sounded every morning, as a wake-up call, or a starter gun. We are a few weeks away from the high holy days of Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. These are the six short weeks of our very own spiritual “athletic” season, when we are involved in performing mitzvot, self-reflecting and doing teshuva—repentance. It’s up to each of us to grasp these opportunities to achieve our very own spiritual bests. We should not ignore people who may cross our path and need our assistance. How should we treat one another? We need to go out of our way to assist one another and not do anything spiteful that is going to embarrass our parents, family, friends, teachers, peers and fellow community members. This period should give us the impetus for performing these mitzvot throughout the year—since we do not have an off season for doing good deeds. Remember it’s the “practice” during the off season that helps us prepare for this part of the Jewish year of Teshuva—true repentance—although in Judaism we should always be striving to perform mitzvot and acts of tikkun olam—making our world a better place.

Finally, back to Roger Bannister. He was the first person to break the sub-four minute mile barrier sixty-five years ago. At the time this was an incredible feat, yet for Bannister he wanted to be known for something greater. Dr. Bannister was to become a renowned neurologist who helped many people throughout his life. Running a sub-four minute mile was a hobby, just something he trained for when he had the time. In fact, on the morning before he completed his incredible physical feat, he had been doing his rounds in a hospital and checking in on his patients. Although Dr. Bannister was defined by this world record at the time, it was his good deeds—mitzvot—in other parts of his life which were more significant for him.

So back to community life at Bernard Zell. In what events are you going for your personal best? Get ready... And we are off! I know you are all aiming to start the year by doing your best and attaining the grades or achieving the goals that you deserve. All of us want to accomplish our academic personal bests in all the subjects that we study and the sporting events in which we participate. But each of us needs to take into consideration that during this period of the Jewish year, when the shofar is sounded, we need to work on our personal bests in different aspects of our character and our inner self. We need to let our tzelem Elohim—God’s image—shine. We need to be the best that we can be.

May this year be filled with much growth in our community and within ourselves. May we all be blessed with many personal bests and records not only in our own professional and academic lives but also in our personal lives and in the lives of our fellow community members. B’hatzlacha—All the best! So without further ado... Tekiya gedola... and off we go...

Gary Weisserman, Head of School

One of my guilty viewing pleasures is Michael Schur's "The Good Place." Actually, strike that—I don’t feel remotely guilty about that particular pleasure. The show is brilliant, and has the added benefit of spawning a surprising number of D'vrai Torah due to its regular insistence on wrestling with complex and ambiguous ethical issues. (I suspect that across the English speaking world, clergy and educators everywhere will mourn its forthcoming conclusion. It appears we will have to start looking for contemporary inspiration elsewhere.) But for now, the opportunity endures; and while rewatching Season 3, Episode 11 ("Chidi Sees the Time-Knife") I found myself thinking about this week's parsha, Shoftim. 

First, peshat, the literal interpretation of the text: towards the end of Shoftim, we receive a very specific prohibition against destroying an enemy's fruit trees in times of war. As few of us have ever encountered this specific dilemma, the rabbinic tradition, which compels us to always seek larger meaning, has come to understand that as a much broader injunction against waste. Bal taschit (“do not destroy”) is therefore a general principle that prohibits us from needlessly destroying any resource that can be considered a benefit to mankind, and is usually seen as a central textual justification for, among other things, Jewish environmentalism. It’s an important enough Jewish value that Sefer Hachinuk, a 13th century book of commentary that systematically discusses all of the 613 mitzvot, claims that Jews should “not allow the loss of even a grain of mustard, being distressed at the sight of any loss or destruction. If they can help it, they prevent any destruction with all the means at their disposal.” Other commentaries, both ancient and contemporary, lead us in the same general direction.

Which begs the question: how can we possibly observe such a broad prohibition against wastefulness? Even the most ardent environmentalist would find this an uncomfortably high bar to reach.  

The Rishonim (our early Rabbinic scholars), however, understood that our observance of bal taschit could never be absolute. Observance of other mitzvot, for instance, were judged to take precedence. Similarly, if the benefit derived from destroying an object was greater than the value the object itself offered—if, for instance, the tree’s wood is more useful than the fruit—we are permitted to destroy. Other values—the very act of innovation, creating something new, is inherently inefficient—have to be weighed against the value of the resources they use.

Meanwhile, in “Chidi Sees the Time-Knife,” the main theme is that modern life has become so terrifyingly complicated that, for those seeking to live a moral life, it’s almost impossible to make ethical decisions. Buying a tomato, for instance, should be the simplest of acts; instead, even if you are obsessively scrupulous in your sourcing, you risk unwittingly supporting child labor, or industrial pollution, or corporate greed. So we are faced with a choice: act unconsciously and court yetzer ha’ra; remain frozen and morally unable to act; or isolate ourselves entirely from the community. (Believe it or not, Ted Danson and company actually make this point humorously—it really is a great show!)

The common issue, of course, is that even our best inclinations, when taken to their ultimate extremes, have the potential to lead us down troubling paths. Protecting the environment is indeed an important and worthy goal, yes—but it has to be weighed against other values. Similarly, living without doing unintentional harm is a treasured tenet—but so, too, is it important to live well. The point isn’t that we shouldn’t try to maximize our impact as environmentalists, and it’s certainly not that we shouldn’t try to live our lives as ethically as possible. Rather, an appropriate message to take away—both from Shoftim and from “The Good Place”—is about the dangers of looking at life exclusively through one lens.


Gary Weisserman, Head of School

Shabbat Shalom! Director of Jewish Studies and Jewish Life, Leon Covitz, and I are going to offer brief D’var Torahs on each week’s Torah reading—just a little bit of philosophy and a bisl Torah, as our grandparents might say …

This week’s parasha, Re’eh, summarizes Moses’ last speech to the Jewish people, in which he reminds them of the importance of obeying God’s mitzvot. The topics vary from the rules of sacrifice to the importance of a seventh-year release from debt, but one of the most curious reminders is 

לא תבשל גדי בחלב אמו

which, translated loosely, means “Do not boil a kid in his mother’s milk.” It’s a strange phrase, especially when you consider that it appears three times in the Torah, and even more so when you consider that its meaning has been hotly contested. Most often, Jews have heard this phrase in the context of rabbinic interpretation, as the reason the rules of kashrut don’t allow us to mix milk and meat. As is usually the case, there’s an old joke that’s worth telling:

God is sharing the Torah with Moses, and they get to this part. “Do not boil a kid in his mother’s milk,” God says.

Moses replies: “Ah! So You want us to keep separate plates for milk and meat?”

God says, “No, I just don’t want you to boil a kid in his mother’s milk.”

“So … we should keep two entirely separate kitchens, with a sink for meat and a sink for dairy, and maybe a third for Pesach?”

“No, that’s not what I said at all. What I said was—”

“I know, you must mean to wait six hours between a meat meal and a dairy meal!”

God sighs. “Fine, Moses,” he says with great exasperation. “Have it your way!”

Rabbinic humor (clearly the highest form of Dad Joke!) notwithstanding …

Even peshat (at the most basic level), one might rightfully consider asking, “Why does this prohibition exist at all?” Is it a chok, a decree from God that is not to be questioned? Most Jews believe, as Maimonides did, that even if it is, it is nevertheless “fit to ponder upon, so as to find meaning.” A more interesting question might be, “Why is this prohibition considered important enough to be repeated three times,” twice in relation to Shavuot, and once in relation to prohibited foods? A frequent explanation is that literally stewing a goat in its mother's milk was recognized as a pagan ritual intended to induce a healthy crop, and many Talmudic prohibitions seem aimed at distinguishing the early Israelites from other peoples. To others, its context lends itself specifically as a reminder not to wait before presenting an offering to God. Other, more abstract interpretations have been offered, including that it was simply cruel to allow the same food that sustained the child to be the agency of its death.  

Perhaps most interesting, however, is the question, “What valuable ethical guidelines might we infer from this prohibition?” One of my favorite explanations is that it is a reminder to us that the sins of the previous generation should never be visited upon its descendants, at least not by human agency. In general terms, it is a prohibition against man enacting intergenerational punishment, or holding a grudge from generation to generation. (In this respect, it might be seen as the poetic inversion of shiluach haken, which requires us to send away a mother bird before taking its eggs for food, so as to show compassion to the mother—that we are to show compassion to the child regardless of where the mother bird may have flown.)

In any case, what we have in this parashah is a wonderful example of the interaction between the literal and the metaphoric, and a way in which the ritual practice of many Jews serves as a reminder of how we are supposed to live our lives: justly, and with mercy and compassion.

Gary Weisserman, Head of School

Dear friends,

A small confession: I am now starting my 26th year as an educator, and it occurs to me right now that I've been in schools my whole life—first as a student, and then as a teacher. I've taught and led schools in cities, in the suburbs and on college campuses. I've worked at preschools, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, early colleges, community colleges and large universities. I’ve directed programs in large public districts and in small private schools, and taught both domestically and abroad—heck, I even ran several online educational programs. So I'm probably justified in thinking that I've pretty much seen it all—

—and yet, after all this time, I still can't sleep the night before the first day of school.

Of course, I know I’m hardly alone in this. The vast majority of us who make teaching children our life’s work have this same experience nearly every late August. That’s a good thing, both because it shows how excited we still are about what we do, and also because it keeps us sensitive to what our kids are feeling. For teachers, the last night of summer brings with it a strange but familiar brew of emotions. We are simultaneously energized, nervous, idealistic, relieved and more than a little jittery. (Although that last part may have been a result of the sheer volume of coffee we’ve invariably consumed during in-service week.) Honestly, I think we’re often more wired than our students, and the only people who actually have more schpilchas than we do are the parents of our youngest students, who are getting ready to send their babies off to “big kid” school for the very first time.

But while the first day experience may be universal, this year’s first day feels particularly special, not just because it's my first “official” year as Bernard Zell’s Head of School, but because it marks an important new chapter in our school’s history. Today saw the “soft” opening of our brand new school building, specifically designed to foster new kinds of learning experiences that can only be held in a state-of-the-art facility. Words can’t describe how amazing it was to see students exploring the new spaces; to see old friends reunited and new friendships being made; to see teachers and students learning together; and, in general, to see this community whole for the first time since late spring. So instead of describing the excitement, let me share with you a few pictures that tell the story far better than words ever could:


It was, in short, a wonderful day, and a lovely way to kick off what is sure to be an amazing school year.

With one day under our belts, that nervous energy I was feeling just last night has now turned to excitement for the future, pride in our community and joy for all the adventures and accomplishments I know that we’ll have together in the coming years. 

Click here to see a full album of the day!


Gary Weisserman, Head of School










On behalf of the search committee and the entire leadership team, I am thrilled to welcome Leon Covitz, our new Director of Jewish Studies and Jewish Life, to the Bernard Zell community!

The search committee, which included senior leadership and faculty members from the Jewish Studies and Hebrew departments, selected Leon from a highly competitive national pool of candidates over a six-month search. In their feedback, committee members variously described him as “incredibly warm and relatable,” “confident,” “enthusiastic,” “passionate about joyful Judaism” and “a highly experienced educator.”  

Leon brings with him an incredible wealth of leadership experience in this field, an impressive track record of successful Jewish innovation and creativity and an unwavering commitment to pluralistic Jewish education.

About Leon Covitz

Leon Covitz is a passionate Jewish educator who most recently served as Dean of Jewish Life at the American Hebrew Academy boarding school in Greensboro, North Carolina. Over the course of his career, he has worked as a teacher and director of informal programs at the Weber High School in Atlanta, supervising and observing new teachers at the Atlanta Board of Jewish Education and as Director of Jewish Studies and Jewish Life (overseeing Jewish studies, Israel education, Family Education and Informal Education) at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy in Atlanta.

Leon earned his Bachelor of Arts in Jewish Studies from Jews College, London, under the supervision of Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks, and a Master of Arts in Jewish Education from the Siegal College of Judaic Studies in Cleveland. Leon is also a graduate of the Senior Educator’s Program at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and the Principals’ Center at Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv. He has extensive experience around the world in both formal and informal Jewish education settings, as a shaliach, teacher and administrator.

In addition, Leon has a diploma in cow-husbandry from Midreshet Rupin in Israel, and for eight and half years was a dairy farmer on Kibbutz Ma’alei Gilboa. He also proudly served in the Israel Defense Forces.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Leon spent much of his youth on his father’s farm. His family was active in the Scottish Jewish community, and it was there he became involved in Jewish education.

Leon is excited to “help the school continue to grow and produce the next generation of knowledgeable, passionate, community conscious, responsible Jews,” and looks forward to making Chicago his new home.

Samantha G., Class of 2019

Hi, my name is Samantha G., I am in eighth grade and I have played volleyball, basketball, and softball for the past three years. In volleyball, we play a game called dead fish. The objective of the game is to serve the volleyball over the net. In sixth grade, I really struggled to serve the ball. Ms. Applebaum and Ms. Pando dedicated so much time to help me, but I just could not do it. This led my small sixth-grade self to tears, many times. 

However, these past nine seasons have changed who I am in many ways.  I could not have gone from hitting the net to acing the ball by myself. It took a lot of help from the coaches. The coaches are what make the Bernard Zell Athletics program thrive as it does. Each coach has not only the intention of making each student-athlete a better athlete, but also a better person. I have learned so many different things from all of my different coaches. The coaches embody the traits that we hope to develop as student-athletes. They are good leaders, compassionate, keep positive mindsets, but most of all they put us and our learning first. 

Another core trait that our coaches demonstrate is tough love. Tough love is very important because it prepares you and helps you develop a thicker skin. Having tough skin is one of the biggest takeaways I have from the Bernard Zell Athletics program. I remember there was one seventh grade basketball game where I was not playing my best. I was fouling like crazy, and not being a good team player. I stomped off the court upset and pouted the whole way home. If a similar experience were to happen now, I am confident that due to my Bernard Zell Athletics career, I would still be upset about playing a game like this, but I would not stomp off the court and spoil the game for my team. 

Another way that the BZ athletic career has made me a better person is through my leadership skills. Now, this may come as a surprise to exactly none of you, but since I was in SK, I have always liked to lead everything and be the boss of everyone and everything. While most sixth graders are scared of the older eighth graders, I was just jealous that they got to have all the power, and I did not. However, while I was in sixth and seventh grade, I saw the eighth graders use their power to help the younger kids learn and become better team players. My sixth-grade self would have looked at leadership as a power; my eighth-grade self looks at the leadership as a responsibility. The Bernard Zell Athletics program has helped me figure out what type of leader I am, and helped me learn how to become a good leader. The program gives you a chance to be put into a leadership role. However, you also get to observe the different styles of leadership that student-athletes and coaches use, so when it is your turn to be the leader you are prepared. Some traits of leaders that I have observed are staying positive, being compassionate, and delegating. I have tried to embody these traits during Softball this year. As a person who has played softball since I was in second grade, I have more experience on the field than most. However, I think this year I started being more positive if we win a game. Also, I have grown because now I am able to let others take a leadership role. I don’t save it all for myself. 

When you are up to bat in softball, you either get an out or you don’t. However, you have your whole team, the whole other team, all of the coaches, and all of the fans staring at you. To me, this is one of the most stressful things. But, the Bernard Zell Athletics program has created a space where it is okay to strike out, where it is okay to make a mistake. Even though in high school and beyond I won’t have the same Bernard Zell community cheering me on through every swing and miss, I will have always have the foundation and the skills that the athletics program has provided me with. I have been given the chance to put myself out there in a space where it is okay to make a mistake and because of that I now have the confidence to put myself out there.

 Not only does this program grow you as a person, but it also helps you become a better team player. Bernard Zell Athletics means so much to me and is one of the best things the school has to offer. Amongst all of this, it gives me a chance to be with teammates, strengthens relationships, and it gives me a place for my peers to see a different version of myself. During school, there are a variety of pressures, and people mostly only see the academic version of you. For me, it is so special that my peers have a chance to see me in a non- academic way. This is a time that I really value having with my peers because I want everyone to know multiple versions of me not just my inside the classroom version.  Lastly, the four things that everyone regardless of your age should take away from the Bernard Zell Athletics program are winning is a lot but not everything, being a team player is key, with leadership comes responsibility, and relationships with teammates and coaches are so important. 

Three years later, we are playing dead fish again, but I am now an eighth grader and it is my last game of dead fish ever. I can serve it over the net with no problem now. However, when this practice ends; I start to cry. Not because I was frustrated with my ability, but because I was not ready for the season to be over. I was not ready for my Bernard Zell Volleyball Athletics career to be over. Here I still am, not ready to say goodbye to my Bernard Zell Athletics career. 


Kyle Sheahan, Director of Athletics and Physical Education

On a picture-perfect afternoon this Wednesday, Bernard Zell hosted it’s 4th Annual Track Invitational. 

  • This year we had 189 student-athletes representing nine schools: Bernard Zell, British School, City Day, Catherine Cook, Francis Parker, Lycee Francais, Near North Montessori, Solomon Schechter and Waldorf.
  • We had over twenty amazing volunteers made up of parents, coaches, teachers, as well as parents and coaches from other schools.
  • There were eight events at the meet: 1600M, 800M, 400M, 4x100 Relay, 4x400 Relay, 100M, 50M Hurdles, and Long Jump
  • Our runners won medals in a number of events:
    • Kaylee K., CHAMPION JV Long Jump
    • Bennett L., CHAMPION JV Long Jump
    • Charlie S., 3rd place JV 1600m (6:13)
    • Rachel F., 4th place JV Hurdles
    • Scarlett S., 3rd place JV 400m
    • Lauren R., 4th place JV 400m
    • Zoe H., 3rd Place JV Long Jump
    • Ian S., 4th Place JV Long Jump
    • Jack D., 3rd Place Varsity 400m
    • Jack D., 3rd Place Varsity 800m
  • The spirit and sportsmanship from ALL teams during this event was palpable. Seeing students cheering on their younger or older teammates, seeing opposing runners hug each other after a hard-fought 100M final — truly remarkable.

Special Thanks to:

Candace Chesler and Taty Sampson for running the scorers table with such precision and organization. The system they created to hand out all 124 medals is something to marvel at.

Beth Sanzenbacher for helping to organize the finish line and all the timers - a very challenging and demanding task - and the MVP of the entire event, JACK, for being our official runner 

Denise Schwartz for stocking, organizing, and selling concessions throughout the meet.

Jonah Gross, for being our Long Jump Pit official.

Our timers and utility helpers- perhaps the most thankless job, but SO important. Stephanie Bloom, Debbi Cooper, Susan Custer, Doug Davis, Karen Leavitt, Itay Livni, Kate Magnuson, Hannah Silver, and Mitch Silver.

Our amazing assistant coaches, Kate Magnuson, Jonah Gross, and Alex Lezama, who were not only instrumental in running today’s meet, but for their work every day with our student-athletes, preparing them since early April for this event.

And last but not least, our Head Coach Benje Casper, who has the most important job of the event... the announcer and lane organizer - this event cannot run without Benje’s organization and passion... and for his overall leadership in taking over our track program three years ago, transforming this into a team that over forty students participate on!!

Maddie, Sasha and Annabelle

This morning we started out on a hike at Baniyas. We visited an old Roman Pagan temple where we learned the story of the god Pan. After the temple, we started the hike. It was very beautiful and sunny, there were flowers surrounding us and a small breeze. In the middle of the hike we stopped at a tiny Druze pizza shop. We all tried honey or cheese pita pizza. It was really good! We also saw a beautiful waterfall and walked up some stairs for the rest of the hike. It was a good start to the day.

After lunch today we overlooked the border of Syria. In front of us, we could see a grey road that was the border between Israel and Syria. We stood on an overlook that had bunkers from one of the Israeli Syrian wars. As we were looking over the border we talked about the complex Civil war that is going on in Syria. It involves Syria, Russia and Hezbollah and is still going on today. We also could see Mount Harmon, the only mountain in Israel that people can ski on because it is the only mountain with snow. When we looked to the left we could see Lebanon in the distance. It was a very pretty view, and it was very interesting to learn about the conflicts between Israel’s bordering countries. 

I’m the afternoon, we arrived at the campsite and set up our tents. We then got split into 6 groups where we heard the instructions to our fun master chef activity. On a big table in the middle of the campsite was several vegetables, meats, and other cooking essentials for us to create a meal. We had 1.5 hours to cook our meal and present it on a platter for the judges. The meals that were prepared by the groups ranged from pasta dishes to chicken kabobs to classic Israeli meals. This competition was a super fun way for us to get creative and work together. Overall we had an amazing day! 

During the evening some of us chose to learn about stargazing while others chose to relax and play cards. Around 10 everyone retired to their tents. Some of us slept well others got up a little bleary-eyed.  But for all of us, camping out and eating the food we made is an experience we will never forget.





Riley J, Natalie, and Marissa

Hi families! 

Today was such a fun day! To start the day, we had a relaxing tefillah led by some of our friends which included praying, yoga, and blessing interpretation. The morning tefillah was very meaningful because it was our last day observing Shabbat as a grade. This tefillah was extra special because it was done outside in order for us to appreciate the nature around us. 

After our nice Shabbat morning, we took a walk to the Jordan River where we built our own rafts and got to use them! We had the best time competing against each other on the river. Each point group was on their own raft and we had a great opportunity to bond while we rowed, completed tasks, and followed a map at the same time. Most people got splashed a little bit but we had so much fun! 

To continue our day, we went to visit the Galit Chocolate factory on our Kibbutz! We each made our own personalized chocolates and we got to eat them after. We also got to learn how chocolate is made and what goes into producing yummy chocolate. Afterward, we all got some chill time to relax, clean, and socialize with our friends. Shabbat is the best!

To close an amazing day and to celebrate the end of Shabbat, we got to go to Tiberias and go on a boat ride on the Kinneret. They played amazing music and everyone was up and dancing! We all had a blast! The whole grade bonded not only by dancing but because we know these moments won’t last forever. After got off the boat, we got a good period of time to shop and grab some treats. It was a great end to the day. Only a few days left! We can’t believe it’s almost over. Next up: camping!!!







Brian Barasch, Director of Marketing & Communications

While our eighth-graders are off exploring Israeli culture first-hand, the rest of the Bernard Zell community celebrated Yom Ha'atzmaut yesterday by singing, dancing, learning and reflecting on the importance of Israel to the Jewish people. Among those sharing valuable lessons with our current students was Bernard Zell alumnus, Josh Brodsky, who as a current high school senior offered wise words about the state of Israel.

"As students at Bernard Zell and as Jews in America it is your responsibility to have your own opinions," said Josh. "Be critical thinkers. Don’t be afraid of nuance. It is okay to question something you love. In fact, doing so will make you love it more."

Click here to watch Josh's full remarks.

Josh Brodsky is a graduate of the Bernard Zell class of 2015 and a current senior at the Latin School of Chicago. He will be attending George Washington University in the fall. 

Gabe, Rose and Rachel

Hi families!

Today we had a packed day! We went to Masada, Ein Gedi, and the Dead Sea.

Masada: At Masada we hiked up the Roman Ramp, which took us about 15 minutes, which was much faster than we expected. Once we were at the top of Masada, we learned about the events that occurred on the top of the fortress. The story was told by six eighth grade volunteers (Max, Zach, Annabelle, Brit, Andrew, and A.J.) who took on the role of a character in the time of Masada and read monologues about a certain person’s life. They even had costumes! 

We ended our tour on Masada with shouting “Bernard Zell” to the cliffs of Masada and hearing it echo back. After that we took the snake path down Masada. The snake path was challenging and took us about an hour. 

We then went on a water hike at Ein Gedi National Park. We began by learning about the terrain of Israel from five volunteers, who stood in different poses to represent the different types of terrain Israel has. Each student represented a different kind of terrain. Our guide, Yonatan, showed us how rain clouds move in Israel, by pouring water on the heads of our friends! After that, we started the hike, which took us along a waterfall, two ponds, and a great view of the Dead Sea. During the hike, we stopped at the ponds and hopped in to refresh ourselves, as it was quite hot outside. The scenery was breathtaking!

After the Ein Gedi hike, we hopped on the bus and drove to the Dead Sea. While on the bus, our tour guide Yonatan explained that about 3 feet of water evaporates from the Dead Sea each year! He then explained that during this process, the soil creates holes in the ground called sinkholes. Sometimes these sinkholes are small, but they can also be big, and there have even been houses and resorts that have closed because they fell into the sinkholes! After we got off the bus, we ate lunch and changed into our swimsuits. Then we got in the water. We kept walking deeper and all of a sudden, our feet started floating up! It was so fun to see the beautiful view while floating. When we were swimming around, since we were floating on our backs, all we had to do was paddle with our arms! We dug for the mud and put it all over our bodies. It felt good at first and then it started burning when we got out of the sea and into the sun. After we washed off, our skin was so soft and smooth! 

On to Shabbat!



Oli, Cam and Josie

During the Makhtesh Hike, we learned about how craters form during the process of erosion. While hiking, our tour guide, Yonatan, explained to us that by using certain desert plants and mixing them with water, you can naturally wash your hands. Also, we participated in a fun erosion demonstration activity using a watermelon. We took spoons and took turns spooning out watermelon — or at least we tried. All the students ended up harnessing their inner barbarian and grabbing the watermelon with their bare hands and slurping the juice. Overall, we had an awesome hike full of learning, watermelon eating and messy clothes. 

When we got the camels, we got right into the fun. We got our helmets, our partners, and our camels. When the camel stood up, it was a roller coaster because they put their back legs up first then the front legs. Our camels started walking and I must say, it was not very comfortable but it was tolerable. The walk was nice. We had conversations with each other and the camels were making all kinds of noises. I could clearly tell that one of them didn't want to be there. We made it back to where we started and we all began telling stories about our small journey through the desert. We were also very hungry so we went to a bedouin lunch. We got the tent and sat down on cushions. Next thing we know there is a giant plate of food in front of us. It was delicious. Everyone took naps because we were exhausted. Once we woke up, we had delicious coffee. Overall, this experience was so fun and will definitely be remembered. 

Afterwards we stopped at a Makhtesh Ha-Gadol and created artistic sand bottles. Yonatan taught us that inside of the crater there was different colors of sand because of the metal content. We tried to make rows of different colored sand and rocks. Then we drove to our new hotel in Arad. We ate dinner, played in the park, wrote in our journals, and went to bed. We can't wait to visit Masada early tomorrow morning!

Julia, Max and Phoebe

We started our day off with a hike at Ein Avdat, a nature reserve with hidden water pools in the desert. During the hike we stopped and learned about the plants in the desert and the fascinating ways they adapt to their harsh environment. We ended the hike with an uphill route which was pretty exhausting and hard… you will definitely be hearing more of this when we hike Masada!

We then headed to Makhtesh Ramon, the largest inlet erosion crater in the world, where we split into two groups to go rappelling and to go on the safari tour (both groups got to do both activities). The rappelling was down a 40-foot cliff. At first, it seemed really scary because we had to control our own speed, but once we started it was such an awesome experience. On the safari tour, we got into an off-road bus where we went on a bumpy ride to the highest mountain inside the crater of Makhtesh Ramon. There we learned more about how the makhtesh was formed. Although learning about the history of the crater was pretty interesting, I think we can all agree we had more fun driving on crazy bumps with high winds. 

To end off our day, we celebrated Yom HaAtzmaut in the center of Mitzpe Ramon. There was a stage set up where we got to see singing, dancing, karate, and so much more! You could say our grade went pretty crazy for all of the Israeli themed toys, costumes, and of course the cotton candy and other snacks. We had a fantastic night full of dancing, the amazing firework show, and celebrating Israel!

AJ, Eli and Jordan

Today we are writing from our first day at Neve Shalom! We arrived safely last night and have had a great stay so far. Today we saw the Mifgash kids. They met us at Neve Shalom this morning and we had a couple of ice breaker games so that we could meet the nine new kids they brought with them. After the ice breakers, we all headed to an outdoor cooking activity where we were able to bond and have fun cooking. We learned how to cook shakshuka, pasta, and a salad and it expanded our communicating skills because we had to communicate with kids that aren’t fluent in our language. 

After we cooked, we went to play water tag. It is essentially laser tag and capture the flag, but with water guns. We were combined with the Mifgash kids then split into two groups. We then spent the next hour relentlessly and mercilessly spraying each other in the face with water guns. After water tag, we sat in a closing circle and the Mifgash kids gave us some gifts. We then said our goodbyes and went for ice cream before heading back to eat dinner and change for the Yom HaZikaron Ceremony.

Later, at night, we went to a Yom HaZikaron Ceremony. The ceremony we went to was specifically based on lone soldiers who had died and victims of terror. There we heard stories of people who had fallen during battle. We got to experience Israel’s Memorial Day and see what it was like compared to the American Memorial Day. Although it was very sad and emotional, it was a very important experience for all of us.



Zach, Simon, Lizzy


  • Geopolitical Tour - Zach

The Geopolitical Tour was all about the Israel-Palestine conflict. We started off our tour when we went over the green line. In the UN’s eye, past the green line is disputed territory, but in the Israelis eye, it is part of Jerusalem. 

We then made a stop at a viewpoint that overlooked Bethlehem which is a part of the West Bank. We learned that the Palestinians live in the West Bank and that it is their safe place. We also noticed that there were security borders surrounding Bethlehem and the entire West Bank. Our tour guide informed us that those walls and fences are used to protect the Israeli communities outside of the West Bank.

Our next stop was Rachel’s tomb. Although we couldn’t go see it we still got as close as we could’ve been to the West Bank. 

Overall, the Israeli-Palestinian problem will most likely never be solved. The issue is very complex and each side has valid points. 

  • Photography Workshop - Simon

The photography workshop was led by our tour guide today, Beni. We started the tour at the Machne Yehuda Market, which was a lot less crowded than when we visited on Friday. There, Beni taught us the importance of looking for small moments and actions that would make the perfect photo. We went on three different photography missions to capture different things in the Shuk. The first two were finding people shopping and doing actions. For the third mission, we got into groups to find different things in the shuk. Those included finding colors, people, and food. Following the market, our group walked to Ben Yehuda Street and met everyone else for lunch and shopping. Overall, it was a really fun experience and we took a lot of great pics! I would love to do it again.

  • Rampart Walk - Lizzy

The rampart walk was up above the old city of Jerusalem. We talked about how dense the old city is and how people used to live just inside the walls of the old city because it was too dangerous to go outside the walls. We talked about how the village right outside the wall was made and how it all came together. 

We then talked about the Bible and why Jerusalem is so special to the Jews. It is because when King David became the second king, he decided to have a city to combine all the tribes and have a neutral city. We then walked on the ramparts in the Armenian quarter. While walking we noticed the different strategies for attacking enemies from inside the wall when the old city was in possession of Jordan. 

We then went to a church to talk about Christianity. We talked about why Jerusalem is important to Christians. It is because this is where Jesus had been the Last Supper and was crucified. After we were done talking, we saw the room of the Last Supper. We sadly did not have time to talk about Islam but we learned a ton!

  • Shopping time on Ben Yehuda Street—Lizzy

Later, we went to Ben Yehuda street to eat lunch and shop. Many people had falafel for lunch or many had shawarma. Most girls bought jewelry and Dead Sea stuff. Some boys bought chains and gifts for others. While shopping and eating some people had family or friends come and visit! All in all we shopped till we dropped!

  • Mt. Herzel National Cemetery - Zach

Mt. Herzel is the gravesite for many important Israeli figures. For example, Theodor Herzl, Yitzhak Rabin, Michael Levin, and many more. This awe-inspiring mountain creates a peaceful feeling that makes the experience much more special. 

Our tour guide told us many impactful stories about the people who lay at Mt. Herzl. This made us think about the significance of this place and how it is a piece of history.

Mt. Herzl is a very special, impactful, and significant place.

  • Neve Shalom tour
  • We arrived at Neve Shalom which means an Oasis of Peace. It is a unique community in Israel because there are an equal number of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Israelis who live together in the community. They have a bilingual school and a lovely circular shaped building which serves as a place of silent prayer for the entire community. Jews and Muslims pray in the same building. The community represents hope in a very troubled part of the world.


Maddy M., Samantha, and Sasha G.

Today was an incredible and eventful day. To start off the day, we traveled to the Old City of Jerusalem. We started with an archeological tour of the City of David; this included a water hike. The water hike was through the tunnel that David built to transport water into his city. We walked underground in a narrow tunnel made of stone with water up to our ankles. It was very dark and difficult to see; especially when we turned off our flashlights. After we dried off and had a midday treat. We headed back to the Kotel for the most exciting part of our day; Sasha Golubchik’s Bar Mitzvah!

Maddy M. and Samantha: Sasha’s Bar Mitzvah was very meaningful to us and all of our grade; it brought many of us (including teachers) to tears. Since his Bar Mitzvah was at the holiest place for the Jewish people, this made it even more special.

Sasha G: This is a very special day for me. In my Dvar Torah, I mentioned that this experience manifested many firsts: my first time in Israel, first-generation American, first bar mitzvah in my family, etc. It felt very meaningful for me because I got to set the b’nei mitzvah tradition for my family. Even though my dvar torah spoke about many firsts, this was the beginning of many lasts for our grade, including last bar mitzvah. 

In the afternoon we walked around one of the four quarters in the old city: the Jewish quarter. We had time to grab a bite, bargain, and go shopping for ourselves and our families. Lastly, we had a chance to go back to the Kotel one last time to put in our final notes, say a prayer, and take photos.

We loved Jerusalem, and can’t wait to continue exploring this magnificent country!

Gavin, Yasmin, Zoe

Hi families, 

We had a great and relaxing Shabbat yesterday which we needed after a long week of memorable experiences! 

We started off our morning with a meditational Tefillah led by some of our friends. We said our favorite prayers and in between did some breathing exercises and had a few conversations about the meaning of teffilah.

Then, we had free time when many of us went swimming at the hotel pool. Many of us had family come and visit, which was very fun. In the afternoon, we got to go on a tour of the Ramat Rachel kibbutz where they are “rich with no money.” Throughout this tour we learned how the kibbutz supported its families with necessities such as food, cars, and shelter. We got to see their lifestyle through this tour and see how kibbutz living is like. As a reward for our good participation throughout the tour our tour guide let us visit his strawberry fields. We got to pick and try fresh strawberries, which were delicious! 

For dinner, we went to a barbecue hosted by a family that houses lone IDF soldiers. A lone soldier is a soldier that doesn't have a support system at home. This house provides them with that support. We got to hear their stories and learn about lone soldiers. Then we ate yummy barbecue!

We are enjoying our time in the Old City now. More about that in the next post!

Gavin, Yasmin, Zoe




Jenna, Mollie, Josh

Day 3 of the trip started off pretty early. We packed up, ate breakfast and were on the bus by 8:30 in the morning to head to Jerusalem. We sat by point person groups for the hour-long ride through the countryside. 

We arrived at the Mount of Olives for a beautiful view of the city of Jerusalem. It was a great picture opportunity. We also said the shehecheyanu and celebrated our first moments together overlooking the ancient city. We ate an energizing snack and drank grape juice to prepare for the day ahead. 

Next, we visited Yad Vashem. This was a great opportunity for us to learn more about our shared Jewish history. It was a unique opportunity to see artifacts and connect them to what we had learned in history class. We were able to connect the ideas we learned about in history class to the things that we saw in the museum. The one light shining into the mirrors in the children's memorial was a powerful experience. It showed how many future generations were extinguished because of one child dying. 

For lunch, we went to the Machane Yehuda Market, where we had the freedom to walk around with our friends and explore Israeli culture. We ate falafel, shawarma, and rugalach. 

We checked into our next hotel, Ramat Rachel. We are currently on our way to the Kotel for our first Shabbat in Israel. Shabbat shalom! 

Riley A., Belle L., and Gabi J.

Our Day 2 started bright and early at 5:23 a.m. when a few jet-lagged 8th graders decided to throw a party on the second floor of our hostel. Around 8:00, we hopped on the bus to head over to the Tel Aviv Innovation Center where we learned about new inventions and successes in Israel. The students thought it was really cool to interact with new companies such as a Pillcam and a company that pulls drinkable water out of air. During our time at the Innovation Center, we stopped at 10:00 AM for a two-minute-long siren to commemorate the Shoah, as it was Holocaust Remembrance Day here in Israel. We thought it was one of the most moving and important experiences of our Jewish journey. This was a very chilling moment for our grade and brought us closer to each other and to Israel. 

We then ventured to the new Yitzhak Rabin Center where we had our second party of the day to celebrate Jenna’s 14th birthday, outside on the grounds with an amazing view of the city! Inside the Center, we learned about the last 100 years of Israel’s history, through the eyes of one of Israel’s most cherished and celebrated leaders, Yitzhak Rabin, who was sadly assassinated in November 1995. After we visited the Center, we made a quick stop at Rabin Square to see the spot where he was assassinated. Following the square, we had our first pizur lunch around Yitzhak Rabin Square filled with tons of chicken schwarma and Aroma coffee. 

Then we headed to our three-afternoon electives: a bike tour, a graffiti art tour, and a spice market tour! Those of us on the biking tour had a peaceful bike ride on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and beautiful views of Tel Aviv. All around it was just good vibes. On the graffiti tour, we got to see all the different graffiti art in South Tel Aviv. Quick culture shock – graffiti is seen as art in Israel. The group touring the spice market got to explore Levinsky Street, which is famous for all of its spice shops, most of which are owned by immigrants from Persia and Russia. 

We ended the day with a relaxed hour and a half of freshening up, playing in the park across the street, and packing for our big day of exploring the Holy City tomorrow. After a chill dinner and a nice journaling session, we concluded with a meaningful conversation reflecting on the day. Then we hit the hay! Good night, signing off is Riley A, Belle L, and Gabi J. 



Abby C., Chloe F., Noah L.

The excitement in the airport was visible by the huge smiles on each of our faces as we arrived and gathered into our point groups. After making it through security, with only minor bumps, we sat outside our gate as we were delayed for 45 minutes. The plane ride to Newark was efficient and quick, despite our concern about missing the connecting flight. After landing in Newark, we all quickly ran through the airport to catch our flight to Tel Aviv. We went through the second round of security before boarding the plane, but once we got through, it was smooth sailing. Most of us entertained ourselves on the flight by watching movies, coloring, reading, doing crossword puzzles, talking to friends, and most importantly...sleeping. 

As our plane touched the ground in Israel, we erupted into a round of applause and were eager to get off the plane and get outside and breathe the air of Israel. It was a lot warmer getting off this plane than it was when we got on in Chicago. Plus it was clear skies all around. As we drove to our first hostel, we were all quietly taking in the sights and were surprised to see that Tel Aviv is very similar to cities in the United States, just with more Hebrew. It was really cool to see the different communities and how our idea of what Tel Aviv was going to be like was different from what it actually was. We quickly shared dinner together at the hostel before participating in an incredibly powerful and moving Yom HaShoah Ceremony. We all read different quotes or poems from someone who lived through the Holocaust and each piece gave us a different perspective and story of how the Holocaust impacted each individual involved. The power of the ceremony was felt by everyone and it was the perfect way to end our first official day in Israel. Now it’s time for some much-needed sleep before we take on Tel Aviv for the first time! 




Ariel Rosen, Assistant Director of Admissions and Community Engagement

The Passover Haggadah tells of four sons—the Wise, the Wicked, the Simple and the One Who Doesn’t Know How to Ask—and describes four approaches to recounting the Passover story to each of them. But who really wants to label their child “wicked?” We thought these archetypes could use some updating.

Check out our take on four types of kids you might find at your Seder, and resources for helping each one get into the spirit of Passover!

“The Participant”

Some kids are ready to jump into the action! Get your child ready to say The Four Questions at your Seder with these helpful hints: 

“The Wiggler”

It can be difficult for a child to sit still through all of the steps of a Passover Seder. Here are some ideas to liven up your Seder with puppets, games and more.

“The Hungry”

Passover can be tricky for some kids without their favorite foods, but these desserts can help distract even the pickiest of eaters.

“The Reader”

Do you have a child more interested in devouring books than matzo? Connect your kid to Passover with these books about the holiday.

On behalf of all of us at Bernard Zell, Chag Purim Sameach!

Ariel Rosen, Assistant Director of Admissions and Community Engagement

Be happy, it’s Adar! (Again!)

Did you know that the Hebrew calendar has a leap month? Almost every three years, we add a thirteenth month—Adar I—to the calendar to keep the holidays in the proper seasons. Now that Adar II has started, we can finally celebrate Purim!

There are four mizvot (commandments) traditional to celebrate Purim. Here are some fun ways to help get you in the Purim spirit!

  1. Reading the Megillah: On Purim, Jews gather to read the story of the holidays from Book of Esther from a scroll called the Megliah. While you may be familiar with most of the triumphant story, the end features a violent turn your child may not be ready for. Follow the link for more child-friendly takes on the holiday of Purim!
  2. Giving Tzedakah: On Purim, we give gifts to those in need. There are many way to help — some like to give money, while other collect food for a shelter. Check out these creative suggestions on how to give back on Purim:
  3. The Festive Meal: Jewish holidays rarely need an excuse for a fun meal! On Purim, it’s traditional to start the meal in the afternoon and have it go well into the evening. Because of all of the secrets in the Purim story, many people serve “hidden foods” — or foods with secrets — during the meal. Learn more about this tradition here:  
  4. Sending Gifts to one Another: In the Megillah, we are told to give one another food gifts on Purim. My favorite treats to give are Hamantaschen, triangular cookies filled with jams, chocolate, or your favorite filling. PJ Library put together some of the easiest recipes from around the web!

On behalf of all of us at Bernard Zell, Chag Purim Sameach!



Abby Aloni, Head of Early Childhood

Each morning when I arrive at school, I take a peek at the state of the construction of our new building. To be quite honest, I know there is a lot of work happening but it isn't the type of work that gets the same amount of attention and excitement as when a structure begins to pop out of the ground. What is being built right now is the foundation. And a building cannot be strong if this vital step is skipped and is not approached with attention and intention. 

The same can be said about the importance and attention that must be given to developmentally-appropriate practice in the early childhood setting. Research demonstrates that foundational skills are built through hands-on, playful learning experiences that encourage the development of curiosity and social competencies. Academics will come more easily if the strong foundation is there.

One example of building this foundation throughout our Early Childhood classrooms is our literacy work with our youngest students. In our Nursery and Junior Kindergarten classrooms, teachers are creating opportunities for students to play with words through talking, reading high-quality literature, singing and chanting. Our educators are keen observers of the children in their classrooms and provide planned, purposeful and playful explorations that give students the building blocks necessary for success in learning to read and write. These building blocks include oral language development, vocabulary building, story comprehension, print knowledge and phonological awareness.

Each year builds seamlessly on the last and by the time children get to Senior Kindergarten, they are ready to go deeper and teachers are prepared to support this growth through continued developmentally-appropriate academic and social-emotional practice. Phonemic awareness endeavors are still play-based but become more targeted, moving from sound and word discrimination, to rhyming, syllable splitting, blending, phonemic segmentation, phoneme deletion, and phoneme manipulation. Encoding is emphasized utilizing developmental spelling as students move from writing one word to creating complete sentences. Most students begin their first foray into conventional reading as they begin to break the code through high frequency, sight word, and word family development. As the children explore fiction and non-fiction, they continue to build a knowledge bank to spark their curiosity and wonder and to learn about the world around them.

Just as we look with excitement to our new building sprouting from the sturdy foundation the construction workers are creating, as early childhood educators we feel that same excitement as we quietly and carefully support our young students' development. We know this step cannot be skipped and with that foundation in place, the seeds of learning will grow and ensure a bright and successful future!

Rachel Jury, 5th Grade Teacher
How do you prepare students to be problem solvers in the real world? You teach them the steps of Design Thinking and then allow them to practice those skills until they can independently apply those mindsets. Through Design Thinking in Middle School at Bernard Zell, we offer invitations into the complexities of the world and afford students opportunities to become empowered to solve real challenges that exist. We believe that with repeated practice students can strengthen their Design Thinking muscles and learn to view challenges as opportunities for which there are a multitude of possibilities.
Fifth graders are initially introduced the the concept of social issues as part of our history curriculum which focuses on the overarching concept of the impact of individual choice and how those collective choices create history. Speakers from the larger community were invited to speak about the issues of homelessness, bullying, refugee rights and diversity and inclusion. This served as our empathy step, helping students to begin to understand issues.
Students then moved to the define step in which they created statements called “How Might We’s.” For example: how might we help refugees feel more comfortable in America? These serve to narrow the focus of the challenge and ultimately become an opportunity. Then, students ideate. In this step, they practice collaborative brainstorming using a “Yes and” protocol that is high energy. Visual brainstorming helps students to think outside of the box without constraints and activates a different part of the brain than list making. Finally, students select the ideas that are most likely to delight the user, most realistic and most surprising. Creating an idea where all three of these categories overlap is the heart of innovation.
Next, it’s time to build prototypes: quick 3D representations that communicate an idea. Students grab materials off of the school’s maker cart and scrappily prototype, building a rough draft cheaply and quickly. Students are taught not to get attached to prototypes as they are merely a way to communicate ideas. We want them to embrace the notion of failing forward and building upon success. From each conversation about their prototype, students realize there are new questions and new ideas. During the testing phase, the students test with adults in the school or from outside organizations. Through the prototyping and conversations, students learn more about their issue, more about the complexities of life, and more about how to work as a team and collaborate.
Ultimately, 5th graders were invited to pitch their idea to a three-person Shark Tank-styled panel. One 5th grader commented, “I also learned that I have incredible ideas and I can help solve an unsolvable issue such as bullying.” This is how we want students feeling: creative, empowered and equipped with the tools to take on the challenges of the world today.
You might wonder, how does Design Thinking fit into a Jewish day school like Bernard Zell? Ultimately, at Bernard Zell we want our students to develop a mindset that is both Action Oriented and Tikkun Olam-centric. This year, as our students utilized Design Thinking to design and implement actual solutions for neighborhood gardens, developed a composting system for our school and built a working solar powered skateboard, it was clear that they saw the world with Tikkun Olam (Repair of the World) glasses and embraced the work of making our world a better place.
Allison Dunn '18
Allison Dunn, Class of 2018
I jumped up and down. I played. I scored. I won. The blood coursing through my veins, the sheer happiness of achievement. These emotions are what gives me motivation to continue in the sport I am playing. I’m Allison Dunn, an 8th grader here.
Each practice and game I have gone through has been important to me. When I was in 5th and 6th grade, I never imagined myself as an athlete, I thought of myself more as an artist. But in the summer before 7th grade I had a change of heart, and stepped out of my comfort zone, pushing myself to try something new. My parents jumped right in when I said I wanted to do sports, and helped me buy all the supplies I needed. I bought myself a set of knee pads and joined the volleyball team. I was nervous for my first practice; I felt like a little mere mouse surrounded by eagles. I wanted to join a sport, but I was scared of the risk. Until then, I did not really play any sports, and I was worried that my teammates would be annoyed with my lack of experience. But once the practice started, I felt right at home. The coaches knew I had not played last year, and always addressed me in an encouraging way that helped me grow. The same thing happened to me when I began softball. I was nervous, but as the season progressed I felt more and more comfortable with my athletic abilities. Not only did the coaches help me, but my teammates did too. They gave me pointers when necessary and always cheered me on, even if I didn’t succeed. I may not have gotten a home run, or even served overhand, but I tried my hardest so I could become the best athlete I could be.
Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning
In 8th grade Jewish identity class, students have been learning about the concept of Jewish peoplehood and the idea that, in addition to Judaism as a religion, many members of the Jewish community feel a connection that they recognize as simply “feeling a part of the Jewish people.” During the course of our studies we learned about a radical idea posited by Avraham Infeld, a Jewish educator who created a metaphor for Jewish life that he calls “the 5 Legged Table”. He applies this metaphor to Jewish identity and proposes that there are five legs on which the “table” of Jewish life and identity stands: 
  • Memory
  • Family
  • Covenant
  • Israel
  • Hebrew
He then challenges each person to identify the three legs that are at the core of their Jewish identity. Why three? Because choosing three provides a stable platform for living a Jewish life. In addition, choosing three also means that every Jew shares at least something with every other Jew even though they may have very different lifestyles and may live in very different cultures. 
Caroline H., Ella K., Arielle P., Eva S.
by Caroline H., Ella K., Arielle P., Eva S.
On Monday morning the eighth grade crew got up bright and early from Kibbutz Ohalo to take a walk through a cemetery overlooking the Kinneret. We learned about two influential Israeli women who were buried there, Naomi Shemer and the poet Rachel. From there we drove to Kfar Kedem, where we were transported back in time by our guide, Amir, who is possibly the funniest human alive. Amir taught us a lot during our time at Kfar Kedem, like how to put on shmatas and tunics; how to harvest wheat; how to make pita; and most importantly, how to ride a donkey. Afterwards, we all got into groups of four (three, if you don’t count the donkey) and saddled up for our rides. We left Kfar Kedem after a traditional Israeli lunch and headed back to Tiberias.
Talia A., Maya C., and Lucy G.
Arriving at the De Karina Chocolate factory the whole eighth grade was so excited. We couldn't wait to learn why this factory was special and, of course, to make and try some delicious chocolate. We met our guide and then went into a room to watch a short video about the factory and the owner, Karina. It was super cool to hear that she had made Aliyah with her family from Argentina just ten years ago. It shows just how much a person can accomplish in such a small country and a short time. After watching the video we got to try some chocolates that were made at the factory. The grade especially liked this part; I have never seen us eat so much, so fast! Next, we went into the the actual factory where we got to see a chocolatier make a chocolate log and all the hard work that went into making all of the products sold at De Karina. Finally, we got to make chocolate products of our own! Everyone had so much fun and got really creative. Some made drawings, wrote their names, or tried all of the different flavor options. We all had a really fun time at the De Karina Chocolate Factory and we can not wait to get our chocolate creations at the end of the trip.
Will F. and Adam P.
On Friday we set out to go learn more about an inter-religious community in Israel. We met a Muslim Arab who lives in Shafaram in northern Israel. He talked to us about the experiences he has had being a Muslim Arab in Israel. We went to a mosque and a Catholic church to further learn about the non-Jewish community in Israel. We talked about the boundaries between people and what to do about it. Overall it was a great experience that made me think a lot about different  communities.
Friday afternoon we went river rafting in the Jordan river. It was a hot and dry day and  we all needed something to cool off. When we arrived at the rafting place we had a nice lunch of pita and hummus with meat.  While rafting everyone had a blast; we pushed people into the water,  went on to other rafts, or threw people from other boats into the water. By the end of the raft ride not a single person was dry. It was so fun and a great way to see the country. I can"t wait to enjoy the rest of the trip.
Naomi A., Jaden K., Nicole L., Corey R., Ali S., and Nate W.
On Yom Ha"Zikaron we went to Yad Vashem where we were welcomed by our tour guide and given headsets. We headed into the museum’s massive triangular structure and started by watching a video showcasing Jewish life before the war. We walked through the many exhibits commemorating victims of the holocaust. At the end of the museum we witnessed an outstanding view overlooking Jerusalem and then ended our tour at the children"s memorial. The children"s memorial was powerful because it represented the 1.5 million children who died with 5 candle flames. As we walked through, we heard the names of the children being read in three languages: Hebrew, English, and Yiddish. I was struck by the fact that our tour guide has never heard the same name twice. 
Candace Chesler
Check back here for a full post and montage tomorrow, but enjoy these photos of the group celebrating in the streets of Jerusalem on Yom Ha'Atzmaut. 
Hannah G.
Hey Parents, Grandparents, and Anyone Else Interested in our Tiyul!
Today was a tiring yet eventful day "1.5".  From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, radish-picking to somber ceremonies, we covered it all. 
This morning, after a yummy Israeli breakfast, we split up into our "Chesed Options." Some kids went radish picking for Leket Israel. The radishes will eventually go to Israelis living with food insecurity. While they were walking the fields, my group and I went to "Save a Child"s Heart." They house kids before and after heart surgery, which they also provide. We got to play with kids ranging from ages 1-14 from Zanzibar, Ethiopia, Romania, and others. Their smiles could not be stifled by the difficulties they all face:) We played cards, catch, did acts and crafts, and laughed with them until we sadly had to leave.

We then went to the Kastel but first both groups got a surprise stop to buy some Israeli food! The Leket group went to Aroma while the Save a Child"s Heart group went to a gas station and bought "chocolate logs" (or Mekupelet, a very popular Israeli candy). Then we were on to the Kastel to picnic and hike up to the top. We got to have our first schnitzel! It was delicious! Then we split into groups and hiked up to the Kastel look out. We took part in team-building stops along the way as well as learned about the battles fought there in 1948 during the War of Independence. At the top, we stood at the overlook and could see the hills surrounding Jerusalem and the outskirts. 

We finished at another stop overlooking the whole city of Jerusalem called the tayelet (I"ve found there are lots of look-out points in Israel). They blindfolded us as we walked off the bus so many of us could see the Old City in person for the very first time. We sang shehechuyanu and took pictures. Then we boarded the buses and drove into Jerusalem to our hotel. We quickly put on our white shirts, ate dinner, and drove to a Yom Ha"Zikaron ceremony targeted for people who made Aliyah (and was conducted in English).  

This ceremony completely showed the tone change in Israel. From normal, busy daily life to a somber and reflective tone. We heard the siren at 8:00 p.m. which brought all the feels. We then listened to stories of those affected by terrorism on Israelis as well as Knesset member Michael Oren. At the end, we sang a slower rendition of Hatikvah which brought us so much pride, a few shed a tear. We walked back to the hotel, had a quick debrief, and are now going to bed. Tomorrow is sure to be an interesting day, with Yom Ha"Zikaron during the day and Yom Ha"Atzmaut at night, so stay tuned!  

Tired but enjoying it all,
Hannah G.
Leehe Matalon
Boker Tov from beautiful and sunny Israel!  
We had a really smooth travel day and the kids have been truly excellent!  Most slept at least a little on the flight and are ready to begin our day.  We are off to have some lunch and then explore the Old City of Jaffa.
Stay tuned for more updates from the blog. Sending lots of love from Eretz Yisrael!
Leehe Matalon
Here is a snippet of some of our girls preparing for Yom Ha"atzmaut! They learned Yisrael Sheli - a new folk dance created especially for this year"s Israel @ 70 celebration. Our students" video, along with those of hundreds of others performing the same dance, will be shared on Yom Ha"atzmaut for celebrations around the world. The students hope to see themselves on the big screen in Jerusalem when the community dances in the streets! 
Be sure to check out the Tiyul blog for regular updates from our 8th graders about their adventure in Israel! L"hitraot!
6th Graders Alix M., Eli K., Ella H., Jack D., Kate S., Michael J., Noa K., & Sam F.
Throughout the year, our class has been learning about food insecurity. Food insecurity is when people are unsure of where their next meal will come from. People who are food insecure sometimes have to rely on unhealthy food to eat, because there might not be fresh food available for them.
Over the course of the year, we have been working on a design thinking project to help out a community garden called Homan Rails. The garden is located on the south side of Chicago. The garden is almost always exceedingly sunny and hot, especially during the early fall and summer. In late September, our class visited Homan Rails community garden to get the full experience of what it is like to work at a community garden, and to grow fresh fruits and vegetables that will help out lots of people in the future.

In design thinking, which is where we come up with a cost efficient solution to solve a real-world problem, we needed to come up with an idea to help the garden. As we thought of different ways to help the community garden, we remembered how much sun there was and how difficult is was to plant things with the sun beating down our back. So, we decided to come up with a solution to solve the lack of shade problem at the garden. We thought that if we created some sort of tent, then everyone would be able to plant seeds without having the sun on their backs.

The only issue about this wonderful garden is that not very many people know about it. As we thought in our design thinking groups, our group decided that the best way we could help the garden was to create a tent with a Homan Rails sign advertising for the garden. This way, we can help advertise for the garden, while keeping the the learning circle nice and cool so that everyone there will have an enjoyable experience helping out with the garden without having the sun beating down on them.
Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader
Why does Bernard Zell use the Measures of Academic Progress assessment (MAP)? One reason is because it is a norm-referenced quantitative way to look at students’ math skills growth over time. Another reason is it helps us look on a macro level at our school’s math program. But how does our school’s philosophy on math instruction and the MAP relate to each other? To better understand the relationship, let’s start by better understanding each of them individually.

Our school’s philosophy on math teaching and learning is based on current research. Bernard Zell’s balanced math program provides the combination of factual/procedural fluency, conceptual depth, and problem solving skills that allows our students to succeed at high levels in school and beyond. We believe factual/procedural fluency (facts and skills) should stem from conceptual understanding rather than rote memorization.  In the 21st century, it is important for our students to develop number sense and be thinkers and problem solvers on top of mastering certain factual and procedural fluency.


Bernard Zell’s Balanced Math Program




            Procedural and     Conceptual          Problem

            Factual Fluency    Understanding     Solving


The MAP assessment, created by NWEA, is a norm-referenced, computer-adaptive assessment that is aligned with the Common Core State Standards. The assessment is focused on skill growth over time. Students receive a RIT score: A number designed to measure student skill achievement and growth over time. The RIT (Rasch Unit) scale is a stable equal-interval scale (like inches to measure your child’s height). It can compare a child’s skill proficiency relative to national proficiency and growth norms.


So, how do our math program and MAP fit together? What is their relationship? Consider our math program’s three-pronged focus on procedural and factual knowledge, conceptual understanding and problem-solving. The MAP assessment is one snapshot in time focusing on one of those three components - procedural and factual knowledge or skills. Is this important to us? Yes, of course! We want our students to master the necessary math skills and make steady progress in this area. To this end, we have increased the amount of distributive review and skills-focused work in all grades.


But the MAP assessment does not provide us with a full picture of our students’ math thinking and understanding. For insight into our students’ conceptual understanding and problem-solving, we need to look at classroom work and assessments. Math educators nationwide lament the lack of a large norm-referenced assessment to do this. At Bernard Zell, we are continually seeking to improve our formative and summative assessment use in these areas. We are using a number of resources with greater consistency across classrooms such as “The Problem Solver curriculum,” “Formative Assessment Lessons,” “Problems of the Month,” and “MARS Tasks.” (For  more information on any of these tools, please reach out to Jen Levy.)


Another important element to note is our school’s belief that skills should stem from conceptual understanding rather than rote memorization. Our MAP scores in the younger grades typically reflect this belief. Instead of covering a lot of material quickly and superficially, we work to develop strong understanding of the mathematical big ideas. One example is the work we put into helping Lower School students understand the process of regrouping in subtraction, rather than immediately teaching them the steps to the traditional algorithm. In Middle School, instead of going right to memorization of procedures for operations with fractions, we seek to first develop students’ reasonable thinking.


At Bernard Zell, our philosophy on math assessment must reflect our beliefs about math teaching and learning. We must seek to understand our students’ growth in all three areas - conceptual understanding, facts and skills, and problem solving.  The MAP assessment is one piece of the puzzle we have to help us understand our students’ growth and needs as well as reflect on our program and instruction.

Research to Support Bernard Zell’s Philosophy on Mathematics Teaching and Learning


Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning
This week our 4th graders visited the Alphawood Gallery in Chicago to learn and explore the meaning of an exhibition called: Then They Came for Me. The subject of the exhibition was the United States government’s establishment of internment camps for Japanese Americans following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The title comes from a famous quote by Pastor Martin Niemuller, a German, anti-Nazi theologian and Protestant pastor, who wrote:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
As the students examined the photographs in the exhibition, guided by gallery docents as well as their own teachers, they began to recognize the injustice and the inhumane treatment of 120,000 Japanese Americans carried out by the U.S. government. The students asked questions in an attempt to understand a time when this shocking practice was official. They were stunned to think their country could once have acted in this way.
Learning along with our students, I realized that I had an additional layer of history attending my vision. It was one that assaulted my self-understanding as an American citizen. It seemed to me that America had absorbed Nazi practices and made them American in this regard. A series of stages were created that were designed to: (1) identify; (2) limit civil rights; (3) deny education and occupation; (4) isolate; (5) gather; and (6) relocate and incarcerate Japanese Americans in controlled areas. Thankfully, it was not with the ultimate intention of mass murder. But the strategies leading to camps like Manzanar could have been taken directly from a Nazi playbook.
I am writing this today, November 9, 2017, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht. On November 9 - 11, 1938, a massive pogrom took place which escalated the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis. It is called Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” because of the immense destruction of synagogues, homes, and businesses that resulted in broken glass in cities all over Germany. This video gives a brief introduction to the significance of Kristallnacht.
As Americans, as Jews, as educators, as people who care, we have a responsibility to acknowledge and challenge injustice whenever we encounter it. This too, is an expression of our commitment to Tikkun Olam.
Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning
How fitting it was that a recent fall morning began with a Tiyul meeting whose message was: Lech Lecha! Take yourself - and set out to the land that we will show you. This Bernard Zell tradition began in 1996, but the “lech lecha” tradition really began with Abram and Sarai. For two weeks, our students do leave their land, the place of their birth, their parents’ home, and go to the Land. They set out and travel north, south, east and west and in this way they continue the narrative of the Jewish people. And during the time they are in the Land, they find a second home that is also theirs.
We can see where it all began in B’reisheet/Genesis, Chapter 12. For the first eleven chapters of the book of B’reisheet, there are a series of universal stories. Creation of the world. Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve. Snake. First sin. First forgiveness. First murder. Life goes on. Ten generations pass. Noah. Ark. Flood. Dove looks for dry land. Rainbow. Fresh start of civilization. Tower of Babel. Human hubris. Dispersion over the face of the earth.
And then, we turn the page and we read a brief genealogy that introduces two names: Abram and Sarai. From that transitional moment, it’s much more than simply a new page. It’s the starting point of the narrative of the Jewish people.
It opens with the words: “Lech lecha” - take yourself and start walking! God talks to Abram and gives him a set of instructions. Abram listens and acts. With these first words, God offers the terms of a “brit” or covenant between God and the first family of the Jewish people.
Leave your land, the place of your birth, your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you...I will assign this land to your offspring...
And later the text goes on:
Raise your eyes and look out from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west, for I give all the land that you see to you and your offspring forever...UP, walk about the land, through its length and its breadth, for I give it to you.
One of the standards that guides our study of Tanakh, the Hebrew bible, at Bernard Zell is this: to recognize the Tanakh as the formative narrative of the Jewish people, past, present and future. We teach toward this in our classrooms, and we live it in our journey. We look forward to yet another Bernard Zell 8th-grade class traveling to Israel this spring as their Jewish journey continues.
Emma Weiss "14, Presented at the 2017 Admissions Open House
I love coming back to Bernard Zell because this school is truly my second home. When I was asked to speak today I said, “Of course!” Then I realized I would only have 3-5 minutes – and I thought, “Oh no, how can I speak for three to five minutes when I have hours-worth of amazing things to say and stories to tell about my experiences here?” I will do my best!
I’m currently a senior at the Latin School. Because I’m applying to college now, I’ve been thinking a lot about who I am as a student and as a person and what I will bring with me to the next school I attend. My high school years were great, but I know that I learned all the basics here. Work hard, love learning, do your best, be kind, respect others, give back to the community – be a mensch. That’s how I would sum up what I took away from Bernard Zell.
Bernard Zell is more than just a school – it’s a community. It’s a place where the teachers and administrators really know you and care about you. Everything about being a student here is geared towards preparing you for high school and for life. It’s a really special combination of strong academics, and Jewish learning and values. I can’t imagine a place that could have done more for me.
When I got to Latin, I felt extremely prepared academically and personally. The Middle School experience here was extremely challenging, but 8th grade classes were very similar to the high school classes I encountered. In 8th grade, I wrote a 20-page term paper. It’s still the longest paper I’ve ever written.
One of my favorite things about Bernard Zell are all of the traditions. Two of my favorites are Shabbat Lunch and the 8th-grade trip to Israel. Every Friday, starting in 3rd grade, the whole school gathers in the lunchroom. You are assigned a Shabbat table—I was table 19— and stay with that table until you graduate, again building that Bernard Zell community. And the trip goes without saying, what an amazing opportunity. I had never been to Israel prior to 8th grade, I had just been learning about it for 10 years. When I saw the Western Wall for the first time, I started to cry— it was the culmination of everything I had learned at Bernard Zell.
Standing here on this bimah reminds me of so many Bernard Zell experiences, but one stands out. At 1st grade consecration, my whole grade stood together under a cloth chupah we made with all of our little handprints on it and said the shehecheyanu. At 8th-grade graduation we all stood together under that same chupah, only our hands a lot bigger, and said the shehecheyanu one last time as a group. I won’t ever forget that.
Many of you have very little kids and it’s hard to imagine them when they’re my age. But Bernard Zell really teaches your kids to be smart, collaborative, open-minded, and really kind people. I’m 17 and don’t even know where I’m going to college, but I do know that I want my kids to attend this school because I know what an impact it made on my life and who I am today.
Carrie Lampert 17
by Carrie Lampert '17, Presented at the 2017 Admissions Open House
I graduated from Bernard Zell in June of 2017 and am in my first semester at Lane Tech. Believe it or not, this is not my first time back since I graduated. The Chicago Public Schools had a day off two weeks ago and some friends and I chose to spend that day here. It was a great day. Coming back to my old stomping grounds and connecting with my old teachers reminded me that I will always have a home here. My friends and I chatted with several teachers who were eager to hear about our transitions to our new schools. Ms. Matalon, our 8th grade Hebrew teacher, happened to be in the lounge at the time, heard our voices, and popped out excitedly to hug us and say hi.
I first came to Bernard Zell when I was three years old and stayed for the next 11 years. I have a few vague memories from my first year, like playing with dolls, being scared of the toy cars, and bonding with one of my teachers whom I adored and still remember, even though she stopped teaching at the school years ago. Most importantly, I made many friends at the age of 3, some of whom are still my best friends today, even though we are all now at different schools.
When I first started thinking about what I wanted to say today to prospective parents, I thought about three major topics: academics, social life, and citizenship. First are the academics. There is a very strong focus on academics at Bernard Zell, and the teachers work hard to keep the students engaged by finding creative approaches to learning, including lots of hands-on work. Even when a class was more of a lecture format, my teachers always asked questions and encouraged us to engage in the conversation. They used different strategies, like “fishbowl talks” and “socratic seminars” to facilitate communication, discussion, and movement around the classroom. In science, we did a lot of hands-on experiments and labs and in 8th-grade science, we even built model roller coasters and rockets! We also did quite a bit of group work along with our individual work. With group work, you either love it or hate it depending on your group. But we did learn a lot about getting along with others, negotiating, and compromising. I definitely can say that the transition to a Selective Enrollment high school has been very manageable because of the academic training and study skills I learned here at Bernard Zell.
Along with the academics, I was able to make some truly amazing friends throughout my time at Bernard Zell. The school helps facilitate strong friendships because we do so many group projects and activities where we are able to interact with peers throughout the day. Starting in Middle School, we went on trips as a grade. In 5th grade, we went on the Shabbaton, which was a one night trip on Shabbat that took place at camp Chi. In 6th and 7th grade, we went on two overnight trips where we were able to bond as a grade and with our teachers. And to top it off, at the end of 8th grade, we went to Israel for two weeks. This was an amazing experience that I know brought everyone closer. I shared a room with almost every in the grade girl during the trip and we had the chance to see so many amazing people and places as a group. It was as if all the years and all the little steps along the way led to our trip to Israel. That is how in many ways, Bernard Zell creates incredible friendships.
The last aspect that comes to mind when I think of Bernard Zell is how the school teaches its students to be good people (mensches). Throughout my education at Bernard Zell, there was always an underlying emphasis on being a good person and being humane. In classes, we discussed the importance of being an upstander while talking about the Holocaust, the Civil Rights Movement, or caring for someone we know. We also saw the idea of being an upstander through the novels we read. For example, in To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch doesn"t only take on a big case, he teaches his children to treat Boo Radley with respect. In addition, we also were taught to serve our community. In 5th grade, we participated in service learning called Project Dorot. During this program, we visited with the elderly residents at the Selfelp Home. Making small talk with these residents was not a big deal, but it just might have made someone"s day, including my own. This taught us the idea that small mitzvot matter. Talking to someone is not a huge deal and does not require much effort, but the residents were happy knowing someone cared about what they had to say.
Also, once a year we had something called the Day of Service. Each grade would do different activities and you would either go somewhere to volunteer or help a cause within the school building. All of these projects and little acts that we did over the years and the messages that were woven into our curriculum taught us how to be good people. Bernard Zell does not only care about having highly educated students, but students who are good citizens.
At this point, it may seem hard to believe, but I have actually spent a little more than three quarters of my life at Bernard Zell! And I can say that moving from a class of 50 people to a high school class of 1200 is certainly a big change. But the truth is, Bernard Zell prepared me for it, so the transition was not nearly as difficult as you might think. When I look back at my time at Bernard Zell, though, I can say that I am grateful for the education I received, the friends I made, and the lessons I learned.
Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader
Many parents understandably wonder “is my child being challenged appropriately in math?” Parents wonder this for many good reasons: the way their children are learning math seems different than how they learned, there is tremendous pressure on students to do well on MAP testing, and sometimes children report that math is “too easy” or “too challenging.” How can parents and students better understand how teachers ensure students are appropriately challenged? In this post, we will look at the nature of mathematics to understand what appropriate challenge in math looks like. In the next post, we will explore how teachers differentiate instruction to meet students’ varying levels of understanding and need.
First, let’s take a quick look at the nature of mathematics itself. Many people mistakenly think of math as the accumulation of discrete concepts and skills. Actually, mathematics is made up of several “big ideas.” A mathematical big idea, as defined by Randall I. Charles, “is a statement of an idea that is central to the learning of mathematics, one that links numerous mathematical understandings into a coherent whole.” An example of a big idea is: “Equivalence: Any number, measure, numerical expression, algebraic expression, or equation can be represented in an infinite number of ways that have the same value.” *
Teachers support students through continuous development and deepening of their understandings of big ideas. Looking at the example above, this big idea of equivalence is explored in early grades in many ways such as the use of different strategies for whole number operations. You can “make ten” in a number of ways or even solve 37+25 using multiple strategies. As students’ understanding of equivalence grows, they begin to work more with algebraic equations and expressions.
For many elementary and middle school students, being challenged means learning something new. First and second grade students excitedly report they “know” multiplication because they see it as “advanced.” Middle school students are eager to move into and beyond algebra (even though algebraic thinking is embedded in all grades beginning in Kindergarten.) Math leaders often describe this as seeing “breadth” in mathematics as the sign of progress.
While breadth certainly plays a role in mathematics education, equally if not more important is “depth.” Students spend many years, at least from SK through fifth grade, working on whole number operations. Each year, expectations are raised for understanding, flexibility, accuracy and efficiency. Students also move from concrete models to more abstract models. In Middle School, proportional reasoning is of major importance and students explore this big idea in every grade. As with whole number operations, there is a developmental progression that spans many years.
So, what does this mean about appropriate challenge levels? The next time your child comes home and says they are not doing anything new in math or you look at a work sample and wonder about the appropriateness for your child, think about the nature of mathematical big ideas. Teachers are very thoughtful in the tasks they provide students. They are working to build strong foundations and build connections between concepts and skills. If it is unclear, you or your child should reach out to the teacher to better understand how the work fits into the developmental progression or what foundational big idea is being worked on and why.
*Big Ideas and Understandings as the Foundation for Elementary and Middle School Mathematics, Randall I. Charles, NCSM Journal, SPRING - SUMMER, 2005.
Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader
This blog continues our look at appropriately challenging students in mathematics. we explore the many resources and strategies Bernard Zell teachers use to ensure every student is engaged in “productive struggle.”
First, our teachers have many resources to help guide them in understanding what and when to teach in mathematics. Our math curriculum is aligned with the Common Core State Standards which outlines specific grade level outcomes. For each major topic or concept, we have developmental progressions to help guide teachers’ reasonable expectations for below, at, and and above grade level work. All of the published materials we use are aligned with the Common Core and follow the developmental progressions.
The teachers also use a variety of strategies to ensure students are appropriately challenged. Most differentiation techniques fall under one of three categories: content, process and product. Teachers are thoughtful about which strategies to use for different students and for different concepts and skills.
Modifications to content include changes to the material being learned. For example, for problems involving the four operations, teachers can adapt the numbers involved. Teachers can also adapt the degree of complexity, such as by increasing or decreasing the number of steps in word problems. Yet a third modification is exploring the level of thinking being asked of students in the mathematical task from understanding through to creating (Bloom’s Taxonomy).
Differentiating the process means making changes to the ways students access the content. One type of modification in this category is altering the settings in which students learn within the range of whole class to one-on-one instruction. Another strategy is providing differing amounts of scaffolding through teacher questioning and modeling. Teachers can also vary the pace in which students access mathematical content. Another strategy that teachers are using more involves “low-floor/high-ceiling tasks.” These types of tasks allow students to enter and work on the content at multiple levels of understanding.
When teachers differentiate the product, they are altering how students share their mathematical understanding. Teachers use their knowledge of the students and their various learning styles to help set students up for success. For example, some students have an easier time explaining their thinking visually rather than verbally. Some students are more comfortable sharing in smaller groups or having the opportunity to work with a partner to make sense of and share their thinking.
A final note about challenging students appropriately in mathematics: Students need to play an active role. First, students need to learn to be objective about their skill and understanding levels and be less quick to judge if a task is “too easy” or “too challenging.” Second, students need to be self-advocates. Communicating to their math teachers about their thoughts and feelings in appropriate and respectful ways helps ensure everyone is working together as a team for success.
Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning
Most of the time, Jewish holidays invite us to remember, perform rituals, tell stories, recite blessings and prayers, commemorate history. One of the striking things about Sukkot is that we are literally told to rejoice in the holiday - v’samachta b’chagecha ושמחת בחגיך. In fact Sukkot is referred to as Z’man Simchateynu - the season of our rejoicing in the kiddush said at the festive meals, as well as in the additions to certain core tefilot (prayers) that are included in holiday prayer services.
So, where does Sukkot fit into the annual holiday cycle? At first glance, it seems to be part of the fall holidays: Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot. But did you ever consider Sukkot"s connection to Pesach/Passover? Sukkot rounds out a different holiday cycle. Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot are three holidays linked in three significant ways.
They are linked in a historical cycle:
  • On Passover the Israelites are liberated from slavery in Egypt
  • On Shavuot the Israelites get to Mt. Sinai where they receive the Torah and hear the Ten Commandments
  • On Sukkot after receiving the Torah, they wander for forty years in the desert
There"s also an agricultural cycle:
  • Passover always takes place in the spring and is the beginning of the planting season
  • Shavuot falls seven weeks after Passover, in early summer and marks the harvest of first fruits (bikurim)
  • Sukkot always occurs in autumn and is the final ingathering/harvest festival
And then there"s a God cycle that points to the relationship between God and the emerging Jewish people/nation:
  • On Passover, God redeems the Jewish people from slavery
  • On Shavuot, God reveals God’s self to the nation at Sinai
  • On Sukkot, God provides for the Jewish people as they wander in the desert
It always seemed to me that if we lived in a perfect world, the final link in these cycles would have Sukkot celebrate the entry into the Land of Israel. After all, that is the ultimate objective of the process. But instead, Sukkot is the holiday that marks not-yet- arriving!
We celebrate the process - not reaching the goal.
So why are we specifically instructed to “rejoice” in this holiday? Is it because we’re joyful to have successfully been written in the Book of Life? Is it to celebrate the benefits of an abundant harvest? Or is it to present us with the challenge to find joy in our lives even when we have not yet reached our ultimate goal?
For more information about Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, try my favorite Jewish website: My Jewish Learning  
Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader
The Standards for Mathematical Practice are part of the Common Core State Standards for all grades. These eight Mathematical Practices go hand in hand with the content standards mapped out for each grade level. The Mathematical Practices describe varieties of expertise or habits of mind that mathematics educators at all levels seek to develop in their students. For more information on the Common Core State Standards for content and practices please see this website.
Here is a brief description of each of the Mathematical Practices:



Make sense of problems and

persevere in solving them

Student plans, persists, monitors and checks work in problems

Reason abstractly and quantitatively

Student makes sense and thinks reasonably about the quantities and their relationships in problems

Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others

Student explains thinking to other people, and discusses other people’s thinking

Model with mathematics

Student sees math in the world around us and uses various models to solve problems

Use appropriate tools strategically

Student selects and uses math tools carefully and knows limitations/benefits

Attend to precision

Student speaks and solves problems with exactness and meticulousness and reviews work

Look for and make use of structure

Student looks for patterns, repeated reasoning and structure to solve problems

Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

Student notices if calculations are repeated and looks both for general methods and shortcuts to solve problems


For more information on how to support the development of these Mathematical Practices at home, please see this helpful website.

Candace Chesler
This past weekend we witnessed deeply troubling events in Charlottesville that can’t go without acknowledgment and condemnation. At the root of so much evil that exists in the world is ignorance, and the most potent weapon against ignorance is education. Our mission at Bernard Zell, indeed our raison d’etre, is to educate students to be intelligent, thoughtful, independent-thinking, and empathic citizens who create a world that will be better tomorrow than it is today. 
There is an important combination of nature and nurture—the environment in which we raise our children and the education that we provide them—that leads our students to become who we all want them to be, which in turn creates the world in which we want them to live. No one is born a racist, a bigot, or an anti-Semite, but unfortunately there are people whose minds are so poisoned that they actually preach these horrible things. Human beings are all created b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God, and we respect and celebrate the diversity that makes the world what it is. But we vigorously reject those who pervert the freedoms we have and use them as tools of hatred and violence.
The Jewish community has always stood against discrimination, and we do so at Bernard Zell in the absolute strongest terms. Events such as those in Charlottesville remind us how important it is that we remain focused on raising great kids who can think critically, behave compassionately, and reject evil. One organization with which Bernard Zell has partnered in this effort for several years is Facing History and Ourselves, a non-profit that trains teachers to confront racism and bigotry. In a recent interview with NPR, the organization’s CEO, Roger Brooks, says they seek to “empower students to work against bigotry and injustice or improper uses of power,” and that, "people make choices and choices make history."
We will continue to do the same and to teach our students to make choices that will make the future brighter, kinder, and safer for generations to come.
Candace Chesler
Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School matters. A lot. We aren’t here just to fill a building or help stimulate the local economy, even if we do both. We aren’t here just for ourselves or even just for one another. We are here because the world needs us. The world needs empathic, compassionate leaders; intellectually curious learners; creative problem-solvers; and ethical citizens with a deep commitment to humanity. We are here because the world desperately needs more Bernard Zell graduates.
Sam Zell has said, "If I’m being intellectually challenged, if I’m doing things I’ve never done before, if I’m using my creativity and resources to solve problems, if I’m constantly learning—that is fun."
This sentiment truly encapsulates what our graduates are taking out into the world: intellectual curiosity, creativity, problem-solving, and a love for learning. Indeed the education that they have received at Bernard Zell will extend well beyond the classroom.
Our graduates' journey is one on which we are proud and grateful to have joined. They will see that they may never have teachers like the ones they've had here. That they"ll likely never receive personal love and attention like they’ve experienced here. But now that they've completed the Bernard Zell experience, these future prospects shouldn’t be scary because our graduates also have gotten all the tools they need to confront whatever they encounter down the road. The further they get from their time at Bernard Zell, the more they will see the impact this school has had on them. And their teachers are always there for them no matter what, no matter where, and no matter when.
When in The Lion King, Jr., the Operetta performed by our 8th graders earlier this spring, Rafiki took Simba to the watering hole and told him to look at his reflection, he saw who he thought himself to be. Rafiki insisted that he look more closely, and when he did, he saw his father’s likeness. He was reminded of the love, the support, and the teaching that his father had given him as a child. He was reminded that he is the one true king. Our graduates, for the rest of time, can look at their reflections and be reminded of the love, the support, and the teaching that they got here at Bernard Zell. Whenever they"re in doubt, they can also imagine Rafiki insisting that they look closer, and they'll see their Bernard Zell classmates and teachers.
On Thursday night, I challenged our graduates to also embrace the Jewish teachings and culture that define our school. I challenged them to make a difference. Go for greatness. Work hard. And to always remember to BE the difference, BE the greatness, and BE Zell! I wish them and all of you a wonderful summer. Hakuna Matata!
Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning
It is hard to describe all the extraordinary and ordinary moments that made up the last seven days of our Tiyul in Israel. Singing “Bo,bo, bo, boker tov” and “I can teach you a word . . .” on the bus to start our days, learning a new Hebrew expression daily, observing Yom HaZikaron and celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut, hiking, rafting, bike riding, tasting new foods, riding donkeys and camels, eating in a mishnaic-era village as well as a Bedouin tent, floating in the Dead Sea, exploring the Kotel tunnels. It is hard to imagine that we actually did all this and more in one short week! And yet we did.
Our time at the site of Masada with the Class of 2017 had a unique highlight this year. We climbed up the Roman ramp and headed directly into what was the synagogue during the three years (70 - 73 CE) that the Jewish Zealots held out against the Roman legion after they had destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. The kids brought their siddurim with them to bring our Tefilah into that special historic space. As it was Thursday morning, we had arranged to have a Torah scroll for our service. Ten eighth graders prepared to read passages from this week’s Torah portion, “Kedoshim”.
Early that morning, one of the students who had not marked his bar mitzvah back home, agreed to have an aliyah la-torah, and get called up to the Torah at Masada. He had the first aliyah, and chanted the blessings, followed by the first passage of the Torah portion. His friends continued the reading and at the end of that aliyah, everyone gathered around and started singing and dancing to celebrate their classmate becoming bar-mitzvah! We didn’t have candy to throw at him, so we threw throat lozenges from the first-aid kit to carry out the tradition of throwing something sweet at the bar mitzvah boy! Then we lifted him up on a chair, Israeli-style, 13 times, with everyone cheering. It was a moment that we will all remember!
In the short discussion we had about the Torah reading, we focused on the opening pasuk or passage. It reads as follows:
קדושים תהיו כי קדוש אני ה׳ אלוהיכם / Kedoshim t"hiyu ki kadosh ani adonay eloheychem Be kadosh/holy, because I, your lord, am holy.
When the kids considered what this might mean, one member of the class of 2017, a “modern commentator,” suggested this: since the Torah tells us that human beings are created in the image of God, and God is kadosh/holy, then maybe being kadosh/holy is the way that human beings are intended to reflect their being created in God’s image.
Our trip is designed to have moments that resonate with each student. We don’t always know which experience will connect with each student before it happens. But, when it does, we all sense the impact. Shabbat shalom from Jerusalem!
Candace Chesler
We are sad our adventure has come to an end, but we can't wait to see all of you!
Leo Fischer, 8th Grade Student
Yesterday we sadly left our friends at Kiryat Gat and headed for a city called Holon to go the the Children"s Museum. At the museum everyone had one of two options: The first was an exhibit called Dialogue in the Dark which was an activity where you go through a series of pitch black rooms with a blind guide to try to get an understanding of what being blind is like. For many, this activity made people have more respect and understanding for blind people. The second activity was to experience what it was like to be deaf. In the activity you couldn"t hear or talk so you had to communicate with facial expressions and other movements. After the activity we ate lunch outside in the blazing 98 degree heat and then headed off to Tel-Aviv for the last part of our trip.
Kate Perloff, 8th Grade Student
Today we went to Dig for a Day. We dug in archeological sights and dug up old ceramics from Maccabean times. After that, we emptied the buckets that we filled with the dirt that we dug and sifted it to see if we got any other ceramic parts. Then we visited a cave. We had to climb through holes and slide down dirt hills. 

Later that day, we went to see our mifgash friends and the people hosting us in Kiryat Gat. We did many activities like answering questions about Israel"s history, hanging out outside of the school, and having dinner in their library. After dinner all of us went to our host"s homes and each did our own activities. I stayed with Avital and Lela Zerman. We went to the mall and met up with a few other kids from our school and then went to Aroma.  We had so much fun hanging out with our Mifgash friends!
Dani Lieb & Julia Leff
Sunday May 7 we woke up for our last day in Jerusalem. We started our action packed day with a trip to Yad VaShem, the Holocaust Memorial here in Jerusalem. We broke into two groups and did an audio tour around the museum with a guide. The tour was an amazing experience and was very meaningful and emotional for some of us. After our tour we had 3 choice activities to choose from. We chose from a culinary activity, a political tour, and food packing. The the food packers went to the pantry packers organization and packed rice and barley, then packaged it using machinery for shipping. The political tour went with Neil Lazarus, a political enthusiast, near the West Bank and learned all about politics. Both of us were part of the culinary experience. We went to the house of a very sweet and adorable elderly lady named Dalia. When we arrived to her house we met her dog Tony and her husband Ezra (who she thought ran away from her when he was just in the other room). Dalia then showed us how to make her special homemade kubbeh (a dough pastry stuffed with meat and in an amazing beet soup with rice). We got to prepare and eat the food with Dalia. We were also lucky enough to hear her phone ring with Elvis Presley about 15 times and join her in dancing to it. After we all finished our activities we headed back to our hotel to hear a hilarious and informative lecture from Neil Lazarus about politics in the Middle East. Neil had great points to help us all understand the issues in the Middle East better. Next we had some rest time and then came dinner! We took the bus to a delicious restaurant called Fiori, where we enjoyed various pastas, pizzas, salads and breads. The food was amazing! After that we had about 20 minutes to walk around the square where the restaurant was called Tahana ha Rishona (the first train station). We all found a very good ice cream store with cool flavors and amazing ice cream. After that was over we headed back to the hotel, packed up to leave Jerusalem and went to bed. Amazing day over all and we can"t wait to see what tomorrow brings!
Alex Gassel, 8th Grade Student
This morning was Shabbat, so we all split up in to groups to go to different synagogue communities that we may have not experienced before. My group went to a Syrian Sephardic synagogue. It was one where the boys and girls were split up. So the other girls and I sat up in a balcony. It was such an interesting thing for me because I have never been to a synagogue where boys and girls are separated. The actual synagogue itself was beautiful. There was art on all the walls and mosaics on the balcony. I found that in the service I knew most of the prayers and was able to follow along even though the tunes were different. I also noticed that the Torah was stood up which I have never seen before! After that we went back to the hotel and were able to have some free time before we went to meet with an organization called Ultimate Peace. They are a group that brings Israeli and Arab children together through ultimate frisbee and show them how to get along. The place that we met them was probably my favorite that we have been to. It was such a beautiful park in the middle of Jerusalem! I loved seeing all he people hanging out there because it was shabbat. When we got there the counselors explained a bit about what they were all about then we got to play! Some people played a game, while others just threw the frisbee around with each other. It was a very relaxing time which we needed after such a busy few days. After the park, as we walked back to the hotel, we went through the shuk we had shopped at the day before. All the shops were closed and now that the shutters were down, we could see all the amazing street art that was painted on them. Most of them were faces all painted by the same artist. It was really cool to see more of Israeli life in Jerusalem. 

Then we stopped at the hotel again before we went to Ben Yehuda street. There was a quick walk to where we would all meet up, and then we were allowed to go around with friends. We got dinner and did some shopping. We even got to bargain! That was really fun to try even if it didn't work out. We bought gifts for family and friends and of course for ourselves! I don"t know about everyone else but I"m sure my suitcase will be over 50 pounds from all the things I bought! It was such an amazing night to just be with our friends and explore Jerusalem for ourselves. It had been such a long day that the second we got to the hotel we all went right up to our rooms. I had a great time and I"m sure the last few will be even better! 
Hayden Goodhart, 8th Grade Student
In the holy city of David, we went on a very exciting walk in Chizkiyahu's tunnel, knee deep in water. The way that they made this tunnel was two different people digging on two different sides. Eventually, they met in the middle to create this really cool tunnel. Then we split up and half the group went to the military cemetery on Har Herzl and the other half went to the Herzl Museum. I went to the cemetery where we saw Herzl"s grave and political leaders like Golda Meir. Our Israeli counselors shared stories about friends who were buried in the cemetery.

Then we went to Beit Hakerem to buy lunch. Many of us went to the kosher McDonald"s because Mr. Daar said they have the best chicken nuggets. Everyone agreed. Afterward, we went to Shuk Machane Yehuda, which we were most excited to go to. The shuk was filled with crowds of people because it was before Shabbat. Kids got gifts and snacks. 
We went back to the hotel to get ready for Shabbat and headed to the Kotel. When we got to the Old City, we stopped at David"s tomb to light candles and say prayers for Shabbat. When we got to the Kotel, kids got to get up close and even touch the wall. This moment was meaningful to me. It felt like praying at the holiest place in the world with my friends. The wall is a piece of a giant puzzle that was the Temple where the Jews prayed 2000 years ago.
Lily Prostic, 8th Grade Student
(Before I describe our experience in the holy city, I want to make note that I asked my brother Ben to write this with me and he said no.  Mom and Dad, if you"re reading this, remember that for when we get home.)

On Thursday afternoon, we arrived in Jerusalem covered in salt and still stinging from the Dead Sea. Following Tiyul tradition, the curtains on the bus were closed and blindfolds covered every students" eyes. Guided by our teachers and counselors we stumbled off the bus and over to a wall that overlooked the city. I stood with Alex Gassel on my left and Claudia on my right. The three of us waited for the rest of the group to line up holding one another"s hands tightly, oblivious to the beautiful  city that was in front of us. On the count of three we removed our blindfolds and there was a collective gasp among the grade. We saw hundreds of houses built with Jerusalem stone, the golden dome from the dome of the rock shining, and hills and hills of trees. We toasted (with grape juice no worries), recited shechechiyanu, and got back on the bus to drive to the hotel.

That night, we went to the Kotel tunnels and learned about how the Western Wall was created. Later that night, we walked back to the hotel and passed out because we were so tired. Overall, while the day was tiring, it was unforgettable. 
Ivy Schenk, 8th Grade Student
Today was the day that we were going to be going to Masada and the Dead Sea. Although we had to wake up at 6 o"clock, (REALLY EARLY), I was still excited for the journey to come. For me personally I was really excited because I have not been to Israel before, let alone Masada.
The ride to Masada was only 20 minutes long but it felt like much longer. We were all excited to get to the top and see the amazing views of the Negev. When we got to Masada we talked about the history of Masada and we walked up the Roman Ramp. Although it was not that steep, it was really tiring! When we got up there the views were amazing! We had this amazing moment where we all yelled over the cliff "Am Yisrael Chai" , or "the nation of Israel lives. We heard the echoes across the canyons and it felt like our ancestors were yelling back at us.
After Masada we got on the bus to go the Dead Sea. Both people that have been to the Dead Sea, and people who have not, were excited. We went to this really nice hotel and we all rushed to to get changed and "jumped", (we did not actually jump. So we did not get water in our eyes, but you get the point), into the water. As soon as we into the water all of my burns from not putting on enough sunscreen stung. (Sorry mom!!) But after the initial sting it was really fun.
All in all, this day was amazing and I will never forget it!
Aidan Weinberg, 8th Grade Student
After a 6:00 am wake up, we headed to the foot of Masada and hiked up the Roman Ramp. When we reached the top we immediately went to the synagogue and had a short prayer service including Stefan’s Bar Mitzvah. Mazel tov!! Next, we walked to the Southernmost tip of Masada where we yelled into the mountains and heard a distant echo of “our ancestors“ yelling back. Then, we climbed down the snake path and we were off to the Dead Sea.
Abby Losasso
First thing we did today was go on a long hike in the Negev. The Negev is a desert, in the lower end of Israel. It was really hot, and the whole hike was about 3 hours. We drove up the mountain, and walked all the way down, so it was all downhill. For me, it was a challenge because I am not a fan of heights and downhill rocky areas. But once I got down, I was incredibly proud of myself for doing it. Once we got down the mountain, we had lunch. The lunch was falafel which is really delicious and completely different from the falafel I've  ever had. After lunch we went on a really awesome jeep tour.  We made a couple stops along the way and got to learn more about the Negev Desert. The whole Jeep ride was really fun. Sometimes we went so fast I felt like I was going to fly out. After the jeep tour we went to a Bedouin village to learn about Bedouin life and culture. The man who talked to us about Bedouins talked to us in a tent, where we say on pillows on the ground, which was very interesting. He told us how to welcome someone into your home in the Bedouin culture. If you give the guest 1 cup of coffee they are not welcome, but if you give them  3 cups of coffee they are welcome. After that we got to ride camels. It was really fun, but kind of scary at first. I thought I was going to fall, so I was nervous, but once we got up and moving, it was lots of fun. After that, we went to a hotel and went to sleep. Overall, today was really fun. We"re all hoping to have lots of fun tomorrow as well!
Jaden Beltzman, 8th Grade Student
What we did yesterday was first we woke up and left Tiberias and started our day. We began with our first activity at Kfar Kedem, a farm that teaches how the people of Israel lived in ancient times. We dressed up in robes that made us look the part of a farmer in early Israel. Then we rode donkeys, learned how to make pita in mishnaic times, and had a fabulous lunch! We left Kefar Kedem for a long bus ride to Shvil Hasalat, the Salad Trail. There, we learned how to grow stuff in greenhouses in the desert and picked tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, herbs, and strawberries. Then we held pigeons and released them all at the same time. We made our way to the field school where we had pizza and reflected on our Tiyul so far.
Jonah Rosenthal and Josh Penn, 8th Grade Students
During free time at the Royal Plaza Hotel in Tiberias, we swam and chilled at the pool. We had a great time in spite of the less-than-friendly lifeguard.

After swimming we went on a party boat to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut and danced the night away like there was no tomorrow. Everyone was going crazy as if it was a bar mitzvah party, and all of us had so much fun. There was music, dancing, fireworks, and a great view overlooking the beautiful Kinneret at night. 

We had a great time on the boat and then it was time to get off. There was a Yom Haatzmaut dance concert nearby and we walked towards it. As we walked in, coincidentally, one group onstage were dancing to “Circle of Life” from the Lion King! We stayed at the concert for a little while until going back to the buses to the hotel. 
Isaac Akers, 8th Grade Student
When we look at Memorial Day in America, we recognize the sadness in mourners, but we don"t usually know someone who passed away in war first-hand. In Israel, we see that nearly everyone is mourning a family member or loved one that passed away because of war. This aspect makes Yom HaZikaron, that much more special and important to the Jewish people. Before the ceremony, students that had not been to Israel on Yom HaZikaron didn't know what to expect. Yes, we understood the importance of this day but we didn"t feel the emotion yet because we never really had the experience to mourn someone who died in war. Once we got to the venue, there was less noise than you would expect at an event. There were several Israeli flags, and a stage for people to speak and the performers to sing. Eventually, the service started and there was little to no noise. Silence swept across the audience as the speaker started to speak. Not so long after, we heard the siren. The siren that travels through all of Israel in honor of the fallen soldiers. So far that has been one of the most spiritual parts of my trip and it also helped me realize the unity of Israel- a quality so rare in a country and a barrier blocking us from world peace. I have never been so proud to be Jewish. As the event went on, more and more people talked about a sibling that died or was captured in war. After, a slide show was played, showing several soldiers that died during war. Once the ceremony ended, our whole grade was silent as was the rest of the audience. When we got back to the hotel we reflected on what we heard and saw and it made us appreciate our lives and the independence of Israel more. And that"s where Yom Ha’atzmaut comes in!
Jacob Kendall, 8th Grade Student
We just left a very moving event. We met with a father who"s son is a former soldier named Nimrod. The father Chezi told us Nimrod’s story: How he was called to duty in the Second Lebanon War. When he was on the battlefield he died fighting for Israel with three other soldiers in his unit. Chezki talked to us about how he keeps Nimrod"s spirit alive and how he made sure others know his story. You can help by liking “Nimrod"s Lookout” on Facebook. Lastly he talked to us about how he felt about his pain and what he does to overcome his sorrows. This day has been very somber and reflective but we are still enjoying every minute. 
Kayla Chandler, 8th Grade Student
This morning we woke up very early to start an exciting hike at Mount Arbel! We started walking close to the top of the mountain. When we got to the top, the challenging hike started. We had to go through thin, rocky places with many gross bugs to try to get to the bottom. At one point, there were ropes and steps we had to hold onto for safety. It was extremely scary but super fun! There was a ton of cow poop all over the trail and we had to try so hard to not step in it. I may have fell a few times and stuck my hand in a cactus looking plant, but other than that it was super fun. After the hike, we stopped at a gas station to listen to the 11:00 AM siren for Yom HaZikaron. It was really interesting to listen to the siren as we have all seen the videos, but taking part in respecting the fallen soldiers was powerful. We are now on the bus on the way to the hotel. Tiyul is amazing! 
Elise Azulay & Claire Silverstein
Today we were in the North. First we left Kibbutz Afik and headed to De Karina Chocolate Factory. There we watched a video about the origins of chocolate and the history of the family that owns the chocolate factory. Then we went and got to taste chocolate and see someone make Israeli chocolate. After that we made our own chocolate creations. We had so much fun there and then it was time to head to Har Bental. At Har Bental we walked through an old military bunker that was used in wars. At the top of the Har Bental we were able to see Syria which was only 2 miles away! It was very interesting to get a more in depth education about what is happening in Syria while seeing it. As the day went on we headed to lunch. There we got a voucher and had a choice between traditional Israeli food such as shawarma, falafel, and schnitzel as well as pizza and hamburgers. After lunch we walked around a little, did some shopping, and had fun. Next we headed to The Majdrasah which is a water hike. We walked through a path where the water went above our waists. In the middle of the hike we had a grade-wide water fight and played the game “wa” in the water! As the hike ended we were all so wet and wanted it to be longer because we had so much fun. That"s all for now. We can"t wait for what"s to come!
Stefan Presman, 8th Grade Student
This Shabbat was a fun experience that the whole group shared together. We had so much fun doing all the activities we had planned! First, we prayed in the morning and we prayed from our siddurim that we had gotten from Bernard Zell. Then, we played with some of the friendly dogs on the kibbutz and had some free time. After that, we went on a tour of the Kibbutz Afik and saw many things like cows and mountains in the distance. Finally, we went back to the main room in the Kibbutz and watched a movie titled “Race” about Jesse Owens and how he won medals in the Berlin Olympics in 1935, by the way we ate SO MUCH ice cream so I hope you guys are jealous!
PS- Hi Mom!!!
PPS-Stay tuned for pictures and videos of our amazing weekend and our first Shabbat in Israel!
Claudia Ballen & Rachel Nasatir
Hi from the Golan Heights!! Today our kimah (wake up call) was at 7:30. We had breakfast at Kibbutz Afik and then we split up into two groups. One group went bike riding in the Golan. The other, visited a glass blowing studio, and the ruins of an ancient temple. They were incredible experiences. Both groups went to local supermarkets to pick up some Israeli snacks for Shabbat. Some snacks being, “Bisli”, Israeli chocolate, fun chips and gummy candies, etc. We all then gathered near the “mighty” Jordan River and had lunch. We had traditional Israeli foods such as hummus, pita, chicken, and various salads. We split up into rafting groups and began our journey down the Jordan River. Although we started in specific groups, we all ended up swimming most of the way, and getting into completely different groups. At one point, Ms. Matalon had 14 kids on a boat meant for 5 or 6. At the end we all felt disgusting, but we had the best time possible! We miss you all and can"t wait to share our snacks and stories with you when we get back! 
Carter Wagner, Nicole Lucas, Emma Sobel & Natalie Rosenbaum, 8th Grade Students
Today we split up into two groups with one group going to a bike ride in the Golan Heights and the other going to a glass studio. The bike ride consisted of a 12 kilometer (you can do the math) bike up and down a mountain overlooking the stunning Jordan River and mountains surrounding it. The start of the bike ride was mostly flat and we were really able to enjoy the scenic view. As the ride went on, it became much steeper, resulting in many of us walking our bikes up part of the mountain. Throughout the ride we stopped to drink water, take pictures and just to enjoy the view. We all made it to the end with no limbs broken and just a few scrapes. A good time was had by all. 
Jake Herman and Seth Berger, 8th Grade Students
During our first full day in the Promised Land, we went to Independence Hall, we picked strawberries, we played with kids with heart disabilities, we ate lunch in a park, we swam in the Mediterranean Sea, and we went to a Druze House. At Independence Hall, we saw where the Declaration of the State of Israel was signed, and we watched a movie about Zionism and how Israel was made. In school we had a class called Zionism, in which we learned about the creation of Israel. This activity showed us where the State of Israel was born. Then we headed into two groups, one went to pick strawberries and one went to an organization called "Save a Child"s Heart." At strawberry picking, we ate strawberries and picked them to share with others. We all agreed that they were the best strawberries we have ever had. At Save a Child"s Heart, we interacted with kids and played soccer and colored. Both groups headed to the park where we would eat lunch and experience Israeli culture even further. The Mediterranean Sea was our next destination. We swam, played on the beach, and swallowed a lot of salt accidentally. As a grade we got to hang out together, and we had the freedom to do whatever we wanted. We then departed to  Druze hospitality. We were taught about the Druze culture, and we learned about their role in society, specifically in the Middle East. We were served an Arabic Meal, and we socialized among our fellow peers. We now are heading to learn about more Israeli culture and bond even more at Kibbutz Afik in the Golan Heights. As it is our first time in Israel we will learn more about the passion for Israel that Israelis have.

Check out this video about our Tel Aviv Adventures!!!

Lily Katz and Natalie Rosenbaum, 8th Grade Students
After our crazy airport experience and a long flight, we finally, we got to Ben Gurion airport. We were greeted by our tour guides, counselors, and Elise who made an awesome welcome sign. “Welcome home” were the first words our tour guides said as we got onto the busses. It was hard to believe that we were really here in Israel on our 8th grade tiyul. We have all been waiting for this for so many years and now we are finally here!
Upon arrival, we all shared in the amazing feeling of excitement for the upcoming experiences. Then it was off to Dr. Shakshuka for dinner. There was so much good food that kept coming to the tables. Everyone agrees that it was the best hummus we have ever eaten. Everyone was so full by the end of the meal. In addition to great food, Yaheli met us at Dr. Shakshuka which was really fun since most of us hadn"t seen her in a long time. We then walked back to our hotel. We all brought our bags inside and then gathered in a room to get some directions for the next day and played some games to get to know our counselors and tour guides a little better. We then got our room assignments and headed up to our rooms for the night. It had been a long day/two days (time change makes everything confusing) and we all couldn"t wait to shower and get to sleep so that we were ready for the next exciting day to come!
Tiyul Faculty Chaperones
Our bags are packed and we’re off!!! We arrived at O’Hare around noon on Tuesday, thinking we’d have time to check in, relax and have a snack before our flight to Newark. Little did we know our flight would be delayed and we would end up waiting at O’Hare for almost 6 hours!!! Even though we were so excited to get on our way, we were able to entertain ourselves by reading, listening to music and playing cards. Eventually we boarded our flight and made our way to Jersey! We had to hustle through the terminal at Newark but we’re so lucky that United held our flight to give us time to get there and board. The flight was long and we were exhausted from traveling all day. Some of us were able to get some sleep but some of us were just too excited!
Check back tomorrow for more updates about our first day in the homeland!
Candace Chesler

Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, observed in Israel on this Hebrew date since the early 1950s. There are countless papers, studies, and dissertations about how to educate young children about the Holocaust, and there is no definitive approach to doing so. How could a child comprehend the depths of such evil? Should children be exposed to such darkness? To what end? In a Jewish educational environment, how can we reconcile for children the reality of what happened 75 years ago to European Jewry with the joy and promise we hope will define their own Jewish futures?

One philosophy that resonates with me about continuing in the wake of the Holocaust is that of Hans Jonas, a German-born philosopher and professor with a fascinating personal story. In his paper, "The Concept of God After Auschwitz," Jonas writes that God did not abandon humanity or cause the Holocaust to happen. Indeed, God cried and suffered alongside the victims when other human beings desecrated what was meant to be good in the world that God created.
As a Jewish day school, we have a responsibility to learn about, know about, and teach about the Holocaust. Our students are fortunate to benefit from the deep knowledge of our own Dr. Jeffrey Ellison, longtime history teacher at Bernard Zell. Dr. Elliison"s thorough, scholarly, and important perspective on the teaching of the Holocaust was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Cogent Education. You can follow this link to read his work.
For today, Yom HaShoah, I encourage us all to take a moment to reflect on the horror that millions of Jews endured and remember the richness of the lives they lived. In Israel, sirens blared around the entire country at 10:00 a.m. at which time everyone stopped what they were doing and bowed their heads in respect.
In one week, Israel observes Yom HaZikaron, its Memorial Day, followed one day later by Yom Ha"atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. It"s a powerful eight days on the Jewish calendar that we"re lucky to observe as Bernard Zell family. Our 8th grade and their chaperones will be in Israel for the latter two of these days, and we wish them a safe and meaningful trip. As our students experience firsthand the history, people, and culture of Israel, we know that they will return with even stronger Jewish identities and inspired new perspectives on peace and possibility in the world.
Quincy Hirt, Class of 2013
"Bernard Zell is where I learned how to be a student, how to be a member of a community, how to be an athlete and team member, how to be a leader, and how to self advocate."
It’s hard to imagine that in 10 weeks, it will have been exactly four years since I walked across the stage at Bernard Zell with a diploma in my hands. My high school experience has flown by, and I can’t believe that my time at Whitney Young is almost over. It feels as if just yesterday I was still an excited 8th grader at Bernard Zell, eagerly awaiting the end of year festivities.
As with all moments of transition, one has an opportunity to reflect. So as I prepare to leave high school and my home for my gap year and then college, I have been thinking a lot about how I got here. The truth is that Bernard Zell has a lot to do with it. I spent eleven years there. It was my home away from home and where I made some of my best friends; friends who are still a part of my life despite different high schools. Bernard Zell is where I learned how to be a student, how to be a member of a community, how to be an athlete and team member, how to be a leader, and how to self advocate. It occurs to me that I was built at Bernard Zell and tested at Whitney Young. I developed the muscles at Bernard Zell and got to flex them in high school.
I consistently encounter the many different ways Bernard Zell impacted my high school years. The two most profound examples are reflected in my Jewish identity and in my leadership. I often think back to the values instilled in me by my teachers, coaches, and administrators at Bernard Zell. I don’t think I was always consciously aware of what I was learning at the time, but the education was infused with values and it shaped my identity as I left the Jewish environment and was forced to consider being Jewish in a big, diverse, urban public school.
I immediately joined Jewish Student Connection and have been the President for the past two years, taking over for my sister, Kalie, when she graduated. I have loved bringing non-Jewish friends to the club and sharing holiday traditions. I also joined Voices, which is a JUF teen philanthropy program. My four years as a participant and now a leader in this group have profoundly impacted how I think about Tzedakah, Tikkun Olam, and community engagement, concepts I was first exposed to at Bernard Zell.
I have had many opportunities to grow as a leader in high school as the President of my senior class and National Honor Society and as Captain of the Varsity Volleyball Team. Bernard Zell gave me multiple platforms to be ‘on stage’: in the classroom, on the playing field, and in performing arts; whether it was presenting about West Virginia for the 3rd grade state project or playing at City Hall with the band, performing as Pharaoh in the 8th grade Operetta, or singing Hatikvah during the Tiyul.
I see Bernard Zell’s legacy and the impact of a Bernard Zell education everyday in my life as a student, athlete and leader. I know that as I move forward to the next chapter of my education and beyond, Bernard Zell will continue to shape my experiences and influence who I am. And for that, I am grateful.
Noah S. Hartman, Head of School
It has been an incredible year. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. My hometown team, the Atlanta Falcons, won 3/4 of a Super Bowl. And Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School celebrated its 70th birthday. It’s been a year of firsts, a year of surprises, and a year of milestones.
I’m pleased to now reflect on some of our achievements from the last year, and to paint a picture of our future. After 70 years, our school is stronger and more vibrant than ever: we welcome over 540 students and 120 staff members every morning. We have the most advanced academic program with the greatest educational opportunity in our history. We have wildly popular athletics and music programs, an actively engaged PTC, our largest Nursery and 8th grade classes ever, and a clear, open, pluralistic Jewish identity fostered by our Jewish Studies teachers and our intentional environment. The mission articulated in 1946 by Rabbi Solomon Goldman, our school’s founder, is largely still the mission we fulfill today:
We are an independent Jewish day school for the 21st century where academic rigor and purpose, collaborative learning, and a deep commitment to humanity develop engaged, confident learners and compassionate leaders for a stronger, more vibrant community and world.
My vision for our school, in perfect alignment with the strategic priorities of our board, is to educate, nurture, and prepare exceptional students and empathic human beings guided by Jewish values to become leaders in their communities, and to ensure a strong, vibrant school today and for generations to come.
The three overarching areas to focus on in order to achieve this vision are academics, identity, and sustainability.
Academically, we offer the very best primary Jewish education available. Our program is rigorous, experiential, and dynamic. Our teachers are innovative, expert practitioners who model inclusiveness and lifelong learning. Just yesterday, the Harvard Business Review published a fascinating article titled, “Lifelong Learning is Good For Your Health, Your Wallet, and Your Social Life.” I highly recommend the article.
Our future is in cutting-edge, inspired teaching and learning that are increasingly personalized and that exceed all typical standards. It’s in classrooms and common areas that allow for a range of teaching and learning, where students develop their multiple intelligences, hone their strengths, and exercise new talents. And it’s in the context of what will prepare our students for the best private and public high schools in Chicago.
  • Of Bernard Zell students who have gone on to public schools in the last 5 years, 99% have gone to one of top 15 high schools in Illinois, according to a 2016 U.S. News & World Report. These include Northside, Payton, Jones, Whitney Young, Lane Tech, Lincoln Park, and Evanston Township.
  • Of Bernard Zell students who have gone on to independent schools in the last 5 years, 99% have gone to 5 of the most established and respected independent schools in the city: Beacon Academy, Francis W. Parker, The Latin School, Chicago Lab School, and the Wolcott School.
And now let’s rewind for a moment: Since I stood here before you one year ago, we have enjoyed renewed excitement and growth in Early Childhood under the leadership of Abby Aloni and her spectacular team of teachers and Associate Teachers. The Early Childhood faculty has engaged in rigorous and regular professional development coalescing around the Reggio Emilia-inspired approach we know to be best practice for our youngest children. Next month, Abby and two of our Early Childhood teachers (Hagit Lewis and Lindsey Elliott) will travel on a study tour to Reggio, Italy, with the Community Foundation for Jewish Education and the Erikson Institute.
By making Bernard Zell a philanthropic priority, you enabled the physical renovation of our Early Childhood space that has had a profound impact on educational practice and attitudes already. Your leadership from the front has created the conditions in which our teachers lead their students through all kinds of spectacular experiences.
Albert Einstein said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” Experiential learning, which is a focus of our approach at Bernard Zell, adds complexity, relevance, and the potential for deeper understanding to a more traditional curriculum, and it demands an additional skill-set that students here develop young and will apply in other settings throughout their lives.
At Bernard Zell, we have successfully increased our integration of experiential, project-based learning across the curriculum, school-wide. Just one example of this is in 4th grade, where the students were charged with creating t-shirt factories and had to determine appropriate sizes, quantities, and other characteristics that demanded multiple kinds of learning: math, writing, collaboration, communication, and more.
Many excellent schools teach “what.” We teach the appropriate “what” with a lot more “how” and “why.” That’s what makes Bernard Zell different.
Last month, our science team was published in Science Scope, the middle school magazine for the National Science Teachers Association. The publication of their unit on engineering, titled, Call The Plumber!, has already resulted in two schools (one in the U.S. and one in the U.K.) asking our teachers how they can run the unit in their schools.
I believe the future of education will live within what Clayton Christensen calls a “modular architecture,” a system—in this case, a school—in which "components fit and work together in well-understood, crisply-codified ways.” Schools must offer flexibility and customization that allow them to meet the unique needs of each student without redesigning everything else. And we will.
Next year, we’ll be working to even better customize the support, enrichment, and general approaches we take to educating every student—and challenging him or her accordingly.
We’re grateful for the investment in our Student Services that will support a new Literacy Specialist and potentially some additional related services. It is this kind of specialized resources that support all of our students in their academic and social-emotional growth.
We are also excited about introducing a robotics program at Bernard Zell next year. Just yesterday, Mark Cuban, responding to a question from a 23-year-old asking what industry he’d target today if he were just getting started, tweeted that he spends 90% of his reading time learning about machine learning, neural networks, computer vision, artificial intelligence, etc. He said, “They will dwarf the last 30 years of technology.”
Under the leadership of our science specialists, Beth Sanzenbacher and Elizabeth Holland, and in collaboration with our technology and math teams, we’ll incorporate computational thinking, mathematics, programming, and more, into our curriculum. Imagine your child programming a robot to light Chanukah candles or to write in a foreign language.
Our academic goals are lofty, measurable, and achievable, and one significant challenge of fulfilling them is finding the time to do so. This year, we adopted a block-rotation schedule in the Middle School that enabled us to schedule some longer class periods and make appropriate changes more nimbly. We are considering the same rotation in Lower School next year for the same reasons, and we are also extending school on Fridays until 3:35 during the Daylight Savings months. This means 1,000 more academic minutes for your children next year. It’s also a basic gesture to working parents that should still allow everyone to get home in time to prepare for Shabbat, one of our core values at Bernard Zell and something we hope our students experience with their families.
Bernard Zell proudly affirms the unique identity of every student, teacher, and family in our school. We base our community norms on values such as empathy and kindness, and by living those values, we create a special and unique identity as a school. We are lucky to live in a city and at a time when many of the best educational institutions espouse similar values; none of us has a monopoly on them, but our Jewish identity is fundamentally defined by them. We are our values, and our values are us.
We are a Community of Kindness. We aren’t perfect, and as human beings we can always improve—think Growth Mindset!—but we must be accountable to each other to practice these norms. Every morning in every class, our students and teachers greet one another with eye contact and a different greeting. In combination with other strategies and elements of our social-emotional curriculum, this direct behavior instruction makes a difference. We teach our values explicitly through our Jewish heritage and tradition. For example, our 7th grade studied models of Jewish leadership from biblical characters including Joshua, Deborah, and others, and then created books using color and abstract shapes inspired by the work their teachers did with renowned Jewish artist David Moss.
This year, our new Associate Head of School, Michael Kahn, has established a behavior task force that is working to refine and articulate our philosophy and protocols related to discipline. Based on both anecdotal information and data from last spring’s Parent Survey, we know that many parents don’t know what our policies are or whether we implement them in a given situation. The task force is addressing these issues directly and will recommend where our protocols should be modified, and better ways to communicate information to parents. Bigger picture, behavioral norms are part of our overall educational philosophy, and our work is trained on helping students understand their relationship to each other.
In order to keep educating and nurturing the Jewish leaders of tomorrow, we need to ensure financial sustainability for the future. Our Board of Trustees is serious about its fiduciary responsibility and is committed to fiscal planning that provides the best education for students today and long into the future.
My vision for a sustainable future includes (1) a fair and rewarding compensation structure that helps us attract and retain the very best educators; (2) a facility that supports what we know about best-practice elementary & middle education today and into the future; and (3) an endowment that helps us fund these priorities without major tuition increases or fees. Plans for further fulfilling each of these priorities are well underway.
In order to bring this to fruition, we all need to continue leading from the front. The impact of this leadership will mean the fulfillment of our vision to provide the very best educational program, teachers, and environment for our kids, as well as the best preparation for wherever they go from here. With your support, we’ll remain sustainable while still being able to put so much into our children’s experience.
Thanks to your investment through the Annual Campaign, we have made significant improvements in the past few years and have been able to fuel growth beyond just the status quo. This year, over 100 students are receiving some degree of tuition assistance. Over 115 students are participating in athletics. 110 students are playing band instruments, and another 40 are playing guitar. We have increased and improved security, leading to praise by local law enforcement for being the most secure school they’ve seen in the city. We have renovated the Lower School science lab and the entire Early Childhood corridor in ways that have directly and instantaneously improved the student experience. We have received almost a dozen new endowment commitments. And all of this is thanks to you. Your investment matters, it has a profound impact on our children, and as always, we remain committed to responsible stewardship.
Thank you also for your trust and your partnership. There is nothing more important than our children, and it’s a privilege for us to play a central role in helping them become the successful, creative, independent, empathic global citizens and Jewish Americans who will be leading our community into the future. Bernard Zell is an exceptional school with almost 70 years of high-achieving alumni making a positive impact on the world. Everything we do and every decision we make are centered on their best interests and setting them up for success.
Thank you for joining us tonight, and thank you for allowing us to be a part of your family’s Jewish and educational journeys. You are our school’s best ambassadors. Please help us continue growing by carrying the flag and sharing your stories with friends. In partnership, the next 70 days, weeks, and years will be even stronger and more vibrant than the last.
Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader
Bernard Zell’s balanced math program provides the combination of factual/procedural fluency, conceptual depth, and problem solving skills that allows our students to succeed at high levels in school and beyond. We believe factual/procedural fluency (facts and skills) should stem from conceptual understanding rather than rote memorization. In the 21st century, it is important for our students to develop number sense and be thinkers and problem solvers not just memorizers and human calculators. Please read my other blog posts to gain a fuller picture of our philosophy and how we enact it. For more information and research to support our math philosophy, please see the following articles:
Meghan Breyer, 2nd Grade Teacher and Expeditionary Learning Coach
“We can’t first build the students’ self-esteem and THEN focus on their work. It is through their own work that their self-esteem will grow.” --Ron Berger, An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship
It was this quote from Ron Berger that first caught my attention as an educator and led me to immerse myself in every piece of literature and resource I could find about Expeditionary Learning, a teaching mode that falls under the umbrella of project-based learning. What is project-based learning? Quite simply it is a mode of teaching in which students acquire academic and life-worthy skills while investigating an important topic, problem, or question over an extended period of time. Expeditionary Learning is one form of this type of teaching. It distinguishes itself from other versions of PBL with its focus on student-driven learning and an emphasis on producing high quality work for an authentic audience, one that extends beyond the school walls. Rushton Hurley, the founder and executive direction of succinctly states, “If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good. If they’re just sharing it with you, they want it to be good enough.” It is this knowledge that their work will be shared with a real world audience that fosters in students a vested interest in their work that drives them to produce work that exceeds their preconceived notion of their own potential.
Additionally, Expeditionary Learning nourishes collaboration among peers, encouraging students to work together toward a common goal and problem solve through the good struggles they encounter along the way. Students’ varying ability levels are taken into account consistently throughout each expedition, while still pushing students to create high quality work of which they are proud. Opportunities for this peer collaboration include critiquing each other’s work in an established safe and respectful environment, working together to identify criteria of high quality work in order to assess their own progress, and delegating responsibilities to ensure that each piece of the puzzle is completed and completed well.
Last year was my first formal foray into the Expeditionary Learning teaching model, and I saw firsthand how it energized our 2nd-grade classrooms. By giving students more autonomy and responsibility, I watched in amazement as they rose to and eventually surpassed my expectations. My fourteen hardworking 2nd graders produced podcasts about animals in the cat family that were eventually aired on a local radio show. Students worked for four months, researching, writing, revising at least ten or eleven times, rehearsing endlessly and even working with an actor to polish their on-air personalities. They used technology in authentic ways to record their podcasts, acting as editors of their own recordings similar to how employees at a radio station would edit commercial sound bytes.
The biggest takeaway for me circles back to Berger’s quote that I cited at the beginning of this post: my students left 2nd grade with not only an understanding of 21st century skills, but also a degree of confidence that was truly astonishing. Expeditionary Learning promotes student engagement and creates learners who possess the ability to think critically, communicate effectively, and create high quality work that contributes to the betterment of their community.
Candace Chesler
Engaging in service learning is a core element of our school’s goal of developing empathic, caring and thoughtful graduates. Our annual Day of Service is a day when our community comes together and lives this value to the fullest. That is why on Monday, November 21, 2016 every student and staff member took action in gemilut chasadim, acts of loving kindness, to serve a variety of different agencies and organizations in Chicago and around the world. The Bernard Zell Day of Service was created in 2014 in memory of former Head of School Dr. Alyson Horwitz"s late husband, Judd Horwitz as a tribute to the many acts of loving kindness he performed throughout his lifetime.
Leading up to the day, teachers spoke with students about the importance of their classroom projects and how they connected to the Jewish values of tikkun olam and tzedakah. In order for the students to make sense of what they were doing, both teachers and representatives from various organizations around Chicago met with the students to help them fully understand the impact their efforts would have on members of the community.
The Day of Service kicked off with alumni Griffen Saul ‘14 and Elizabeth Goldblatt ‘14, sharing stories of how they started their own non-profit organizations to help others and how their experience at Bernard Zell helped shape them to become agents of change. Griffen and Elizabeth were joined by former Head of School Dr. Alyson Horwitz and Khiry Johnson from the WE organization to inspire our students before their day of giving back and sharing with the community. Students then returned to their classrooms or boarded buses to outside organizations and were ready to get to work.
Every student was engaged in a meaningful activity to serve others, from our youngest students in Nursery to our 8th graders. Eighth graders assisted in classrooms and on service projects to support the younger students in their efforts. In the afternoon, the 8th graders participated in their own service projects throughout the community. Senior Kindergarten students collected toiletry items and organized more than 90 children’s hygiene kits for Share Our Spare. Nursery and Junior Kindergarten students decorated and planted flower pots which 5th graders then delivered to seniors at the SelfHelp Home. Nursery Teacher Jenny Levine reflected, “The students responded positively--they really enjoyed working with their 8th-grade buddies and making something for people in need. They especially liked knowing they were doing something to put a smile on someone else"s face.”
Thirteen different community organizations and agencies were touched by the efforts of our students during the Day of Service. First graders sorted books at Open Books, 2nd graders shopped at local markets using tzedakah money collected since last year to purchase food items for the Lakeview Pantry. Our 3rd graders took on responsibility for our school’s Lost and Found, which they intend to continue throughout the school year. Connecting to their social studies theme of immigration, 4th graders designed and created “stained glass” windows for the Uptown Cafe to serve as screens to protect the privacy of the Cafe’s clients. The 5th-grade service learning theme was והדרת פני זקן v’hadarta pney zakeyn -- caring for the elderly, which the students enacted by visiting the SelfHelp Home and preparing gifts for Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly. In preparation for the Day of Service, 6th-grade students studied the text and themes of birkat hamazon and how it connected to their service learning theme of food injustice. During the day, they continued their learning while preparing sandwiches and no-bake cookies to share with those in need. Khiry Johnson, the motivational speaker from WE organization, facilitated a workshop with the 7th grade to plan how they can be agents of change after they spent the morning out in the community assisting four different community organizations.
No matter the size of a particular project or the needs of its recipients, through this experience, our students walked away feeling that their engagement was meaningful and purposeful. We want them to feel good that they have helped others and to empathize with the struggles of those in need.
Candace Chesler
You belong here. You are valued. Your voice, your experience, your truth, is an important part of our community.
You have the right to be you.
Recently our Bernard Zell Middle School community witnessed a historic event as we watched votes being counted to decide who would be our next President of the United States. As that map filled in with reds and blues, the one word that reporters continually fell upon was “divided.” Media outlets throughout this week have followed the results with questions about why as a nation we are divided, who is on which side of the division and so on. This line of questioning is fitting for media which seeks categorization and putting people and ideas into boxes.
I am grateful for the fact that within the walls of Bernard Zell, we actively seek to break through and even dismantle barriers that might otherwise separate or divide us. As an inquiry-based, human-centered space, our Middle School commits to community building through recognition of the power of allowing and valuing a diversity of perspectives and opinions. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the opening hours of our school day on the morning after the election. I was fortunate to have observed all of the following:
  • 5th graders gathered around their morning message board and drew pictures in response to the morning question, “Who is in your family?” which brought a smile to my heart.
  • 6th graders circled up with each other after sharing their responses to the morning question, “How are you feeling this morning?” This helped me remember to always seek ways to meet students where they are when they enter our classrooms.
  • 7th graders reflected upon the morning question, “What does it take to be a leader?” which gave space to both seriousness and levity in light of the important decision our country had just made.
  • 8th graders used the protocol of a serial testimony circle to give voice to what was on their minds - thoughts, feelings and questions that they wanted others to know about, which became personally moving as I joined in one circle and observed another.
What I saw and heard being passed along to our students, both explicitly and implicitly, were messages such as:
  • You belong here. You are valued. Your voice, your experience, your truth, is an important part of our community. You have the right to be you.
  • Your teachers are here for you. We support you in your questioning, we celebrate in your accomplishments, we hold you in your tears, we share in your exploration of what it means to be a part of the Jewish American community.
  • As both children and adults in our Middle School, we will be seen for the wholeness of who each of us are and be allowed to express our experiences within structures which encourage respectful speaking and active listening.
There is indeed a mix of emotions, differences of opinions, and an array of questions being expressed throughout our Middle School this week. And binding all of these together is the security of our unwavering Jewish values, which are lived each day by our incredible educators. I always take immense pride in the ability of our Middle School teachers to keep their teaching focused on building empathy and compassion. This week, in particular, they have been doing just this as they support our students not only as academic learners, but also as citizens of the world. We do not center our curriculum on providing answers in conversation. Rather we rely on the Jewish values that are core to our school’s mission to guide us in how to invite productive conversation, freely express emotions, and thoughtfully pose questions. The strength of this commitment to respectful engagement has shone brighter in these last couple of weeks than ever before.
On Wednesday morning, I participated in one of those 8th-grade conversations in which each student and teacher expressed their thoughts and feelings. One student shared their appreciation for having a heartfelt, truthful and peaceful dialogue. She expressed gratitude for our respectfulness especially because much of what students see in the media is adults yelling at each other. At the close of our shared time together, I commended the group on this exact point: during a time in which we are being told people are more divided than ever, it is our youth who are finding the means to engage in passionate AND peaceful dialogue. And, what makes me proud and gives me hope is that these same students are the ones who will next bring this commitment to productive dialogue to their next classroom, outside the doors of this school, and beyond the boundaries of Chicago. Through what I witness in the actions and words of our Middle School community every day, I see great reason for optimism in how we as a community can and will face whatever historic event affects our community.
Natalie Rosenbaum, Class of 2017
Rabbi Goldman strongly believed in the integration of Jewish and general studies. If he were alive today, I think Rabbi Goldman would be thrilled to see that his vision -- for a non-Orthodox day school dedicated to the very best instruction in both Jewish and General Studies -- is thriving at Bernard Zell. As a member of the current eighth grade class, I am proud to say that I have received an education rich in both Jewish and secular studies. I have developed a love for Israel and America. And I have seen how Jewish learning and values are relevant to my everyday life.
As an eighth grader, I am in the midst of a very stressful high school application process. But it’s comforting to know that every year, Bernard Zell students are accepted into some of the best high schools in the city. If that’s not proof of the strength of our general studies program, I don’t know what is. Along with the general studies program, our Jewish Studies program has taught me to value the Hebrew language and Jewish texts. It prepared me for my Bat Mitzvah, helping me to learn how to take apart Jewish texts and find meaning in the Torah.
Most important, though, is the fact that Jewish Studies and General Studies are integrated with one another, starting in the early grades. One of the General Studies texts that we read In fourth grade was a book called “Number the Stars”. It helped improve our reading skills, and served as our introduction to the Holocaust. But, most importantly, it helped us to learn about a major jewish value: the value of helping others. Last year, my science class continued to integrate general and Jewish studies when we worked to create a model of a micro-bot that could cure malaria. Not only were we learning about biology and how the body works, but we were learning about tikkun olam, repairing the world.
Candace Chesler
"To defend a country, you need an army. To defend humanity, you need education” —Rabbi
Jonathan Sacks, From Optimism to Hope
“Example isn’t another way to teach. It is the only way to teach.” —Albert Einstein
Seventy years ago, Rabbi Solomon Goldman, the founder of our school, faced a dilemma. As a passionate advocate for the very best progressive general and Jewish education, he couldn’t decide what the school should be called: Anshe Emet Day School, or the Abraham Lincoln School. Goldman was so enamored by the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and what he represented in American society that he even had a bust of the former president in his personal library. So which name would it be?
Of course, today we know the answer, and we are blessed to be part of the Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School community. Despite not being named for the president of the United States who led our country through the Civil War and effectively ended slavery, our mission as a school today still very clearly reflects the founding vision. We can debate whether we’re an American Jewish institution or a Jewish American one, but one thing remains constant: the education of our children is based on a value system that we hold dear. This system is facing an unknown and unnerving challenge today. Will the vitriol and mudslinging of this presidential campaign carry over into the presidency itself?
Will the values that came under fire during the campaign, and that are antithetical to our core beliefs as a community, somehow become more normalized? As the head of a school that stands for compassion, empathy, and justice—and as a father of three young children—I am concerned. But our role as parents and educators isn’t to wait and see what happens or to let social or traditional media tell our children how to feel. Our role is to double down on our values and to become more engaged in our community and in what we believe. It is now more than ever that we need Bernard Zell.
Deanna McBeath, Middle School Science Teacher and Middle School Advisory Coordinator
Earlier this month, I was honored to represent Bernard Zell at the Association of Middle Level Education (AMLE)’s national conference, presenting the sessions Interdisciplinary Design Thinking: Engaging Young Agents of Change and Puberty Education in the 21st Century. (For more on our 5th grade design thinking challenges from last year, read Barbara Applebaum’s excellent post.) In my work over the last several years on the fifth grade human growth and development program here at BZ, I’ve delved into recent research and emerging best practices in the field, identifying four major trends.
Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning
When Shimon Peres passed away this week, many people had a sense of personal loss. After all, he had been in our lives continuously through all the years of Israel’s existence.  He was there from its earliest pre-statehood days, followed by both wars and peaceful times. He was a witness to everyday life filled with decades of development that brought Israel from 1948 to today. I personally remember winning an essay contest when I was in sixth grade called, “Israel Faces the Future”, in which I tried to imagine what Israel would look like when it turned 20, 30, 40, and 50.  And, of course, Shimon Peres was there through it all. 
Candace Chesler
On September 16, 1946, Rabbi Solomon Goldman entrusted our community with a gift of immeasurable value, a gift that is now 70 years old: the creation of Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School. For the past 70 years, Bernard Zell has inspired students with academic purpose – the discipline to unlock the possibilities of life. We teach students to ask the tough questions, the ones that are often uncomfortable to answer. And we encourage them to collaborate, because harnessing the energy of others will take them further than they ever imagined. 
Throughout our history, our students have been immersed in a powerful educational experience inspired by Jewish culture, heritage, language, and spirit. We are and always will be a warm, inclusive community that welcomes families to become engaged partners in the lifelong education of their children and the larger community. 
Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning
I feel like this article should begin with “once upon a time”, because it starts many years ago. It starts in the 1970’s when I first heard Elie Wiesel z’l (of blessed memory) speak at the University of Michigan. If you ever had the honor of listening to him in person, you will probably remember that simply hearing him speak was a challenge. I remember having to strain my ears, lean forward in my seat, and concentrate fiercely in order not to miss a word. He spoke that evening, as he often did, by weaving stories together. Stories of Chassidic masters. Stories from the world of “Night” that he had published and that I had already read several times. Listening to him so long ago, I remember wondering - what will happen when his voice is stilled, and we will not have him to remind us of all that we need to remember? And so, as a young university student, I lingered after his talk and waited to speak to him. I asked him a simple, direct question: Mr. Wiesel, what will happen when we no longer have survivors to tell us their stories?  He had kind yet piercing eyes. And I remember that he linked his eyes with mine and said: then you must tell their story! 

I took these words very seriously. For years I immersed myself in learning about the Shoah, the Holocaust. I studied the history and read the novels set in that time and in those places. I viewed the films and attended lectures. And as time went on, I realized that “telling the story” had to be more than simply telling the story of the Shoah. I understood that what he instructed me to do was more than that. It was to teach the importance of never permitting myself or others to be indifferent or apathetic to evil in its many forms. It was about teaching the value of Tikkun Olam, truly attempting to repair the world. It was about guiding teachers and students to avoid apathy and cynicism in looking at the world. It ultimately became an imperative to commit to an all encompassing Jewish educational approach that emphasized not only the learning of language and texts, but the acting out of what is learned. As a Rabbinic saying goes:  Lo Ha-midrash ha-ikar, elah ha-ma-aseh. It is not the learning that is the essence -- it is the doing.  

Michael Meagher, Class of 2016
One of my favorite parts about sports is the unpredictable nature of the games. In spring 2016, I participated in arguably the most important athletic event in my three years of athletics at Bernard Zell--the varsity volleyball championship game. I had been waiting for three years to win this game. We won the first set, but lost the next. In the third set, we were two points away from victory, but lost the next five points to lose 15-13. For the second year in a row, we had lost 15-13 in the third set of the varsity championship volleyball game. Man, was I mad. The entire team had worked so hard for this and we had blown our shot. I felt an enormous amount of disappointment at that moment and during the following days. But, it wasn’t until a few days after this game that I realized that this was meant to be. Losing this game just helped put into perspective the successes, and the failures of my three years participating in Bernard Zell athletics.

I began my Bernard Zell athletic career in the fall of 2013 playing on the 6th-grade soccer team. I had no clue what to expect. I had never played competitive soccer and did not know where or if I would fit in on the team, but I thought that I would enjoy playing. It turns out that I found my place on the team and would go on to find my place and love every minute of participating on another eight Bernard Zell sports teams. I especially found a love in playing volleyball. I had never touched a volleyball before I stepped onto the court in the spring of 2014. My coaches worked with me until I had learned all of the skills necessary to become a very good volleyball player. Playing basketball did not come easy for me. Honestly, it was not my favorite sport to play. Each season, after every first practice, I would complain and say that this was not for me. But through persistence and lots of hard work each year, I would realize that playing basketball was for me. During my 7th-grade season, I went from a benchwarmer at the beginning of the season, to a starter by the conference tournament.

Andie Berman, Class of 2016
The whistle blows. I look around me to the other team members who give me a weird stare and I try not to laugh. I look at the scoreboard; it’s 0-0. The game is about to start. Ball thrown in the air, I jump, and look at my coach in the middle of the student-teacher basketball game. That moment I felt something. I felt one of my milestones passing by. This was the moment I was waiting for my whole Bernard Zell student life. For athletics, we wait. We wait till the spring of 5th grade to join our first athletic team, track. We run up and down the field. We sign up for activities. Then summer goes by and we finally have the choice of three more sports the following year, each a new and different experience than the last. Then 7th grade comes and you do the same sports again and you become even better. Then 8th grade arrives and you start to think that everything is your last and you feel it. Your last volleyball game, your last basketball game, your last moments as a team. 

Every game, every practice, every last moment has meant something to me. Bernard Zell Athletics has shaped me, and helped me understand what it meant to be a part of a team. What this program has done for me is priceless. The way I have grown, how I have matured, and learned to doubt myself less.

Jonah Moroh, Class of 2012
There is a commonly held belief that each person has a seminal experience that sets the tone for the rest of their lives. For some, a near-death experience makes spending time with family a foremost priority. For others, the loss of a job or an unexpected financial downturn pushes them to start their own business or break away from the corporate world. In my own eighteen years, I can pinpoint the exact experience that set the course for the person who I would eventually become: my time at Bernard Zell. 

At Bernard Zell, I learned to be confident in my abilities as a student and as a member of a community. I had a rough start which involved repeating Junior Kindergarten; unlike Malia Obama, I took my gap year when I was four! A few years later, I found myself in Ms. Hagan’s 1st-grade class. I had not yet learned how to read on my own but Ms. Hagan made sure to consult with me individually each week about which book from her seemingly massive library I was to attempt to read. She encouraged me to complete math challenges during recess a few times a week because she believed I had potential. I left Ms. Hagan’s classroom with the knowledge that I could succeed academically. 

Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning
As we begin this last week of school, we are also in the final days before another important Jewish holiday. It"s part of a cycle of three: Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. And the three are linked historically, although Shavuot seems to be less popular! It is less well-known, and often less celebrated. It is a two-day holiday that will begin this Saturday night and last through Sunday and Monday. It has the usual festival meals, candle lighting, kiddush, and synagogue services each day, as well as the delicious custom of eating dairy foods--especially blintzes and cheesecake! 
Karen Cuculic, 4th Grade Teacher
The fourth grade’s study of U.S. immigration during the turn of the 20th century encompassed both Reading Workshop and Social Studies. During Reading Workshop, students read historical fiction books that told the story of one group’s journey from their home country to the United States. In Social Studies, the students researched that same group’s push from their home and the pull to the United States. Additionally, they learned what the journey across the vast Atlantic Ocean was like, the process of moving through Ellis Island, and how different America was from what they expected. Fourth-graders then chose how they wanted to present the immigrant journey to their classmates. Click the below image to watch a video presentation on the book Orphan of Ellis Island.
Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader
We all know that regular practice of math skills and concepts are important for successful mastery. We also know that many students don’t want to “do math” over the summer. Worksheets and workbooks are neither beneficial nor fun. Instead, try some of these easy, low-key ways to keep your child thinking mathematically throughout summer break.

Internet Resources  (Also check out the website suggestions shared in earlier blog posts!)

  • Illuminations is a site run by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. It has “interactives” organized by grade level or math topics for children to play online. For students third grade and above there is a link to “Calculation Nation,” which is a collection of games students can play online with people all over the world.
  • Nrich math is a wonderfully rich source for activities, games, resources, and articles. It takes a little exploration to understand the organization of the site, but it is well worth it. There are areas designed for students and areas designed for teachers/parents. There are also areas aimed specifically for grade levels. Perhaps the easiest method for exploration is typing a topic into the search box and looking at what comes up.
  • Visual Patterns is a site devoted solely to visual math, a hugely important skill for developing math minds. For younger students, an appropriate challenge would be to find the next “step” or next few “steps” for each pattern. For more advanced students, finding how many objects would be in the 43 step can be tackled either by drawing the patterns, creating a table, or finding the equation.
Olenka Bodnarskyj, Lower School Visual Arts Teacher
We recently had the honor of featuring the collaborative work of Bernard Zell"s entire 4th grade class at the Legacy Heritage Teachers" Colloquium in Newark, NJ as well as during Chalonot and Special Friends" Day in the display cases of our school.

Our inspiration for this project was David Moss" book Binding of Isaac which he shared with the entire grade during his November visit along with other works. This book is a symbolic artwork on a classical biblical story and liminal moment in Israelite history. His work was used as a trigger and springboard to understanding the text that was chosen by the 4th-grade Jewish Studies team.

The Jewish Studies teachers explored Lech Lecha (Chapter 12 -Verses 1-7) in their respective Hebrew classes. After their initial readings and discussion surrounding the text, each of the four sections identified and compiled what they identified as the main elements of the text. In art, we compiled their separate lists into one legend consisting of the 10 main elements. Students then gave each element a corresponding symbolic color.

Dani Cyrluk, 8th Grade Student

Seeing the students from Kiryat Gat again was so much fun! Being able to re connect with them and catch up was very special. The first thing we did was get to know the students that did not get to come to Chicago, which was really nice because they were super excited to meet us. We participated in different team building activities and getting to know you games. Then we went swimming at a local pool in Kiryat Gat which helped us catch up with our friends and to get to know our new friends better!

After swimming we split into groups and had a scavenger hunt! We went all around the Kiryat Gat area and got to explore their local monuments, businesses, and stories. After the scavenger hunt we had a yummy dinner at their school and some of the students performed a couple of songs for us. After dinner the boys and girls separated for different activities. The girls went to one of the student"s houses from Kiryat Gat and had a pool party with snacks! The boys went to another student"s house and listened to music and caught up with each other! After that we all went to our various host families’ homes! I noticed that the families were much bigger than some families in America. The house that I stayed in, had 4 kids and when I was talking to my host mother,  she said her father had 13 siblings and she lost count of the amount of cousins she had a while ago! Something else that I noticed is that the kids in Kiryat Gat had a lot of independence! They walk to school on their own and drop off their younger siblings at school before they go to school. And a difference between our school and their school was the kids bring their own lunch to school everyday! Overall, this experience was so much fun.  We all were so happy to see our Israeli friends again and look forward to seeing them again in the future!
Max Kadish, 8th Grade Student
On Friday, we started our day by going to the Old City of Jerusalem. We headed through the Zion Gate to the ruins of an ancient Jerusalem street where the Romans used to travel through. This gave us a good idea of what Jewish life was like in the Roman period. There we also learned about what life was like in Jerusalem during various other empires. After that we stopped at a T-Shirt store and a coffee shop and headed to the Kotel. We started with the tour of the Kotel tunnel excavations. It was cool to learn about the history of the wall before we actually went to the famous spot of today. We then went up to the Kotel itself, and wrote prayers to put in the wall. Most boys put on tfillin and said their prayers beside the wall. After the Western Wall, we drove to a nearby mall for lunch. After lunch, we went to the headquarters of United Hatzalah. United Hatzalah works as a volunteer organization that assists Magen David Adom in saving lives each day. United Hatzalah is different because they do everything in their power to get to the place of emergency in the first three minutes. That increases the chances of saving lives dramatically. They do this by having everyday volunteers who get an alert on their phone when there is an emergency near them.
Before Shabbat we stocked up on some Israeli snacks like Bissli. We started Shabbat with singing Kabbalat Shabbat and dancing together to the prayers. We woke up in the morning for Shabbat services, and many of us read from the Torah. Then we got to visit a chocolate factory and make our own chocolate bars, which was a lot of fun. After the chocolate factory, we had lunch and some free time to play around. Then we played frisbee with an organization called Ultimate Peace. Ultimate Peace is an organization that brings together Arabs and Jews through the game of ultimate frisbee, which is meant to build strong friendships. We ended Shabbat with Havdalah followed by bowling and pizza. This finished an amazing time in Jerusalem!
Candace Chesler
Being in Jerusalem with the kids and teachers was absolutely incredible, and observing Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) and Yom Haatzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) in Israel was simply without words.

The contrast between these days in Israel and their equivalents in the States couldn"t be starker, at least for those of us without much of a connection to the military. With the help of their magnificent teachers and Israeli staff, I think the kids really internalized the profound importance of both here--as well as the intentionality of one coming immediately on the heels of the other.
Michael Meagher, 8th Grade Student
Yom Ha’ Zikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, was not similar to our American version! While in America we see it as a “day off” from school, in Israel, it is truly a somber day for mourning friends and family lost in recent battles. Ceremonies take place all over the country, with the main commemoration at Har Herzl. We attended one such ceremony, or “tekes”, on Ammunition Hill. There we heard stories about fallen Lone Soldiers from their family members. We were very moved by the experience, especially as we sang Hatikva together.

At sunset of Yom Ha’ Zikaron the mood of the entire country shifts from grief to pure joy for Yom Ha’atzmaut! Huge celebrations take place in every city! We went to very fun party in the town of Mevaseret and spent the next morning at the Israel Museum and took part in many festivities. Later that day, we went on a difficult hike at Nahal Og, near the Dead Sea. This was lots of fun, as well as a great way to spend our afternoon on Yom Ha’atzmaut. The transition between two of Israel’s most important days could not be any more drastic, and we felt so honored to be a part of this aspect of Israeli culture.
Hagit Lewis, Early Childhood Jewish Studies Teacher
To celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, our Junior Kindergarteners embraced the opportunity to plan Israel’s birthday. Their to do list included: baking a cake, making a card, traveling in Israel using the green screen, speaking Hebrew,  and tasting Israeli food.  

The Junior Kindergarteners started their day by taking a pretend El Al flight to Eretz Yisrael. With passport and ticket in hand, they passed through Israeli security and buckled up for this amazing journey. Before take off, the students recited Tefilat HaDerech, the traveler’s prayer for a safe journey. After landing in Israel, they worked hard in the kibbutz to get ready for the birthday. In one room, students made a cake and decorated it in Israeli colors, while in another room students made Israeli salad and hummus from fresh chickpeas. In a third room, students were busy making a giant card for Israel.  


Our Junior Kindergarteners then enhanced their Israeli adventures by using the green screen. The children wanted to visit all the places that the 8th-graders were visiting on their Tiyul. They visited Eilat and swam in the Red Sea, explored a coral reef, prayed in the Kotel, took a ride on a camel, and visited Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Rosh Hanikra.  

Our students then joyously marched through the school hallways with Israeli flags waving and singing songs for Yom HaAtzmaut. Next they visited a shuk were the children got to buy items in the market, followed by Israeli dancing and drinking traditional tea in a Bedouin tent. Our adventure ended with singing Hatikvah in the sanctuary under the Israeli flag.   


After a long day of celebration, all Junior Kindergarten students joined together in the kibbutz (chadar ochal) dining room. They sang Happy Birthday to Israel and got to eat the delicious Israeli salad, fresh hummus and cake together at one very long table. The children were very proud of all that they made and their celebration of Israel!

Beth Sanzenbacher, Science Instructional Leader
From March 31 to April 3, I traveled to the 2016 National Science Teacher Association National (NSTA) Conference in Nashville. This is a mammoth of a conference with 12,000 science educators from around the country, 1,200 sessions and 400 exhibits. It is a luxury to pause from the day-to-day realities of teaching, take a step back, and be inspired by your peers and the country's leading science institutions.  Innovative offerings ranging from Genes in Space to rocketry with the Civil Air Patrol to the First Robotics League, have enabled us to come back with new ideas, initiatives and collaborations that we are eager to introduce to our students.

This year also marks a first for Bernard Zell and its Science Team: presenting our original curriculum at NSTA! Last year our team submitted five abstracts that showcased units and curriculum that have been developed and implemented at Bernard Zell. These submissions went through a rigorous peer-review process, and three were selected for presentations at NSTA.

Former Bernard Zell science teacher Jeremy Siegel gave a 60-minute presentation on his 7th-grade CSI Chemistry Unit in which he outlined how to design engaging murder mysteries and other cases for the classroom while covering core chemistry concepts, such as density and reactivity. Jeremy showed how he uses these narratives to hook students and challenge them to apply scientific knowledge to solve crimes and problems in everyday life. In addition to his presentation, Jeremy received the Maitland P. Simmons Memorial Award for New Teachers. This award is given to outstanding science teachers in their first five years of teaching, and we are thrilled that Jeremy has been recognized for his dedication, creativity and excellence in science teaching!

Middle School Science Teacher Deanna McBeath gave a 30-minute presentation on a 5th-grade unit she co-developed with former Bernard Zell Science Teacher Emily Malette. Deanna’s talk, titled From the Gooey to the Digital: Multimodal Learning with Light and the Eye, demonstrated how combining optics, dissection, and digital gaming allows students to reach mastery and a deeper understanding of light and the eye. This unit speaks to the different types of students, and how we honor the whole child by developing multiple ways to bring complex concepts to them in fun and engaging ways. By bringing science to the child, where they are, we work to show that science isn’t only for men in white lab coats but for everyone at any age!

Our final presentation, titled The Maker Movement in Lower and Middle School Classrooms, was given by the entire Science Team and showcased engaging 1st-8th grade scaffolded Maker curricula. We concluded with a longer-form Q&A session to discuss the challenges of implementing Maker curricula. It was from this discussion that we understood how unique and fortunate we are to have such a strong team. Questions quickly turned to how we structure our science department, and how we work together, collaborate and support one another. We discovered that we are unique in having such a close working relationship between Lower School and Middle School science teachers, and collaborative support between Middle School science teachers.  

The curriculum for each of these presentations is shared in the Shared Teacher Resources page of Bernard Zell website. We are part of a teaching community that is dedicated to our students and committed to improving education and are proud to share curriculum that has been crafted, developed, implemented and refined at Bernard Zell as a resource for teachers around the world. 

The success of the Science Team is down to the the extraordinary people that make up this wonderful group, our love of science, our willingness to go above and beyond for each other, and the support from the entire Bernard Zell community. I count myself lucky to have such intelligent and amazing colleagues who inspire me and to teach in an environment that has unwavering support for learning, discovery and innovation. I feel this passion for science is felt in the classroom and with students as we all work to prepare and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. 

Olivia Hirshorn - Eighth Grade Student

What a fun filled last two days it has been! Yesterday we left the Golan Heights and headed south to Kfar Kedem where we rode donkeys and made pita. We all got dressed up in ancient biblical garb, which we wore around the farm as we took part in all our activities. The pita making experience was something none of us had done before—we all took a ball of dough and flattened it, and then threw it on a griddle over a fire. Pita dipped in oil and zatar is amazing! It was so fun to ride donkeys, especially the ones that weren’t stubborn! We were then served fresh lunch that consisted of warm pita, salad, chicken, rice, and hummus. 

After Kfar Kedem we made our way to a Nir David, a natural water spring where we participated in water games and activities that were bonding experiences. It was such a fun time, and the water felt so good on our skin! 

After our time in the water, we headed further south and eventually arrived at the Arad Youth Hostel where we got some much needed and well-deserved rest!

Noah Lichstein, 8th Grade Student
Shalom from Israel!

We welcomed Shabbat on Friday evening with a Kabbalat Shabbat service and Shabbat dinner.  We sang together, played group games and looked forward to our first Shabbat in Israel. 

Saturday morning, we slept in a little later, followed by breakfast and Shabbat services. Rather than doing traditional services, we engaged in different, creative ways to approach and understand the prayers and songs we sing in the regular service. The options were: Apples to Apples, Tefilah Yoga, Improv Tefilah, and Storytelling. We felt like we were able to understand the deeper meaning of the prayers through modern, fun ways. 

Then, our grade joined together and to partake in a Torah service. After lunch, we had free time. Some people played basketball games while other played Matkot, which is a game like paddleball. We then spent time talking about Jewish identity and values. A member of the kibbutz took us on a tour and taught us about the kibbutz life and history. After Havdalah and departed for Tiberias, where we had a boat dance party, drum circle and explored the market near the Kinneret. 

Today we explored Rosh Hanikra and learned more about the history of the border between Israel and Lebanon. We explored the coast by biking and walking through some of the caves. We then went to a mall in Akko for lunch where I ate my first Schwarma which was everything I hoped it would be!  We then visited the Atlit detention camps and learned about the British mandate period. It was so cool to see what it was like to take a ship to Israel after WWII. 

We went to a Druze house for dinner and learned about their culture which fascinated us! We have some busy days ahead of us: camels, donkeys, Dead Sea, Masada, and more. Stay tuned! We will be posting a video shortly about our adventures. 

Also, Happy Mother"s Day!


The Class of 2016
Please click the above link to watch the first few days of our incredible journey! 
Here you will see footage exploring Neot Kedumim, rafting down the Jordan River, and hiking in the incredible Jilabun! 
We encourage you to leave your comments by clicking the "Read More" link of each blog post and sharing your excitement with the group in our comments section. 
Tzivia Garfinkel, Head of Jewish Studies
I am eagerly looking forward to meeting the Bernard Zell Class of 2016 today. The eighth-graders will arrive at Ben Gurion airport on the morning of Yom HaShoah. What an extraordinary day to begin their exploration of Israel. Yom HaShoah is the day of memory and mourning as we recall the destruction of Eastern European Jewry. And yet as we begin our special journey together we know that in just a few days we will mark Israel"s birth as a modern state -- a critical indicator of the continuity of Jewish life. 

We will celebrate in the only place in the world where that day is a national holiday. Jews throughout the world celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, and in Israel, those celebrations have meaning that is unparalleled, as together we celebrate the establishment of the state in 1948, its growth, its endurance in the face of ongoing challenge, its constantly evolving identity together with Israelis. And, be assured, your children will not only celebrate and have fun - they will also appreciate the importance of the day.   

Some of you have asked me: You"ve done this trip so many times - do you still get excited? And, the answer is an unqualified: YES! My first trip to Israel was in 1968. It was the year after the "67 war and I set out for seven weeks to see the land. I traveled all over, north to south. I traveled by bus. I used my Hebrew. I met relatives who had only been names until that visit. I spent a week volunteering on kibbutz Mishmar Ha-Emek working in the laundry, in a room with two women who were survivors of the Shoah. I heard their stories. I sweated with them as we ironed baby clothes during incredibly hot summer days in a room that had a wheezing fan and no air conditioner. And I suddenly understood that I was living a piece of Jewish history. And, somewhere along the way from the Galil in the north, back to Tel Aviv on the coast, and south to the Negev, somewhere along that way - I realized that Israel would always be an important part of who I am.

Each year there are moments during the Tiyul when I can literally feel students becoming connected to the land. I watch their faces, see their expressions, listen to their silence and to their words and I know that in the days that we share in Israel, they are creating a new layer of Jewish history. Personal history.  

Before departing, the kids will say "Tefilat Ha-Derekh" - the traveler"s prayer. The word "shalom" appears over and over in the text. Please know that we will go in Shalom, and return in Shalom. And that our days will be filled with remarkable experiences, adventures, and friendship. Thank you for giving your children the gift of Israel. And, thank you for giving the Jewish people this promise for the future. 

Rachel Dunn, 8th Grade Student

After landing safely in Israel, we travelled to Neot Kedumim. There we learned about the connection between the Torah and plants. There we also had a wonderful opportunity to herd goats and sheep! We did this with varying success and now have a newfound appreciation for our teachers ;) 
We also had the pleasure of planting trees in Israel and were able to leave our mark on the Holy Land. 
That"s all for now! We are all exhausted and off to bed. Expect a lot more from tomorrow"s blog post.
Lyla Tov!
Candace Chesler
We're pleased to share that our Bernard Zell 8th-graders and faculty chaperones have landed safely in Newark Liberty International Airport and will soon be continuing on to Israel! Each year, our student"s exploration of their Jewish identity culminates in 8th grade with the Tiyul, a two-week experience in Israel that provides students with hands-on learning to deepen their connection with Jewish culture and also provides an exciting meeting with their Mifgash friends who visited last month.Keep checking back to following along on this exciting journey and learn about their daily adventures!
Rachel Jury, Middle School Teacher
In December, students were taken through the Breaker process (empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test) in a "quick and dirty" manner with the simple question, "how can you improve the gift-giving process for your partner?" This two-hour, whirlwind experience, provided students with a base of understanding for the steps in design thinking. We then posed a larger challenge to fifth-graders - to redesign an experience or product to improve life at Bernard Zell by using the Design Thinking process. Students engaged with a variety of constituency groups, and through listening to their stories, built empathy with their experiences at Bernard Zell. For example, students talked to the maintenance staff and discovered that the location of storage required a lot of manual labor and time. Students identified a problem and set out to solve it through a brainstorming process known as ideating. In ideating, there is no solution that is too small or too outlandish. You will not see students sitting in isolation at a desk; instead, they are standing in small groups, surrounded by the information they gathered, sketching, writing and building on one other’s ideas. Embedded in this energetic whirlwind brainstorm are skills and strategies needed to become creative and collaborative young adults. Students then rank their ideas based on most realistic, most likely to delight and most innovative, and then refine their ideas to choose a solution to move to the prototyping stage.


Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader
In January 2015, Bernard Zell Lower School parents participated in Part 1 of this series, and the message was loud and clear: parents want to understand what their children are doing in math and how to best support their learning and growth. In April 2015, Lower School Math Specialist Jen Levy hosted Part 2 of this series, focusing on showing the variety of strategies students use for the four operations, discussing the basic facts and overall expectations in math, and supporting reasonable thinking in real life problem solving. Below Jen outlines the topics discussed and provides resources for parents to review and learn more!

We started with a brief discussion on mathematical models. (See the blog “How to Build Conceptual Understanding.”)  Then we talked about the importance of the basic facts and how to help students master them. (See the blog “Understanding a Math Operation (Addition) Through the Lens of the Common Core State Standards: Part 1.”)  

Most of the session was spent using a routine called Number Talks to explore the multiple strategies possible for mental math with the four operations.  For more information on Number Talks and examples of strategies for addition see the blog “Understanding a Math Operation (Addition) Through the Lens of the Common Core State Standards: Part 2.” 

I am working on a project to share with you more examples of strategies and the developmental order for each of the operations. In the meantime, please explore the strategies your child is using. Remember to seek to understand your child’s thinking, and please hold off sharing the standard algorithms until they are introduced in school.

Below is a list of great short articles I shared during our session that address a lot of what has been discussed in all of the parent education presentations:

Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader
If you have been reading my blogs or really any articles about the Common Core or math education today, you are familiar with the big push for conceptual understanding in math. And if you have attended any of my parent education sessions, you have heard the reasoning behind this push. In this blog, let’s take a quick look at how to actually build conceptual understanding.

Personal Meaning and “Aha Moments”

Conceptual understanding develops when students make personal meaning out of experiences. Consider your own learning for a moment. Can you think of an “aha moment” when something new clicked and you saw it or experienced it in a different way? To help students have “aha moments” and make personal meaning in math, we need to provide them with opportunities to explore materials, look for patterns, persist with problems, and engage in math discussions.  

Mathematical Models

Fundamental to these experiences are mathematical models - cognitive structures through which a learner understands a concept. Mathematical models can be concrete such as base ten blocks, counters, or other manipulatives. More representational models include number lines and number grids, while the most abstract models are numbers and symbols. Generally speaking, it is best to use concrete models when first introducing a new concept and work towards the more abstract models.  Without a model to ground mathematical understanding, it is hard for students to transfer concepts to new formats or move beyond rote memorization.

Meghan Breyer, Second Grade Teacher, and the Students of Room 202
Check out the informative blog below which showcases the podcasts created by the second-grade students of Room 202.  
Meredith Leon, Class of 2011
In a story from The Ravsak Journal, four day school alumni, including our very own alumna Meredith Leon, look back at their day school experience and summarize what remains with them. Read Meredith"s reflections below. 
It is so rare to come across a place in life that you can walk back into years later and feel as though time has transcended itself and you never left. Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, the school at which I spent the most transformative eleven years of my life, embodies this place for me, and for all other thousands of its alumni. A day school experience is unlike any other education because the school becomes a part of you, teaching its students how to be critical thinkers, upstanders, and members of the Jewish community.

My teachers at Bernard Zell, known as BZAEDS when I attended, taught me so much more than multiplication, American history, the stages of photosynthesis, and Hebrew. They went beyond the standard by taking their students on field trips to illustrate the material’s impact on society and bringing in speakers that inspired us to question our world. We were assigned projects that challenged our minds and creativity, from curating mini-museum exhibitions to writing a diary from the perspective a figure in the French Revolution. Day school education teaches students how to think, and when I went on to high school, where I was often taught to a test, the importance of having a progressive learning experience was crystalized. 

Being in a small environment, where students will inevitably form tight knit bonds with one another and the faculty, fosters a unique sense of community that remains strong for years. I made my lifelong best friends at Bernard Zell and continue to visit to see teachers whom I had from nursery to eighth grade. It was truly amazing to see how the entire school—students, teachers, and parents—came together for my family and when my uncle passed away, and I don’t think the support we received would have been possible at any other school. 

Most importantly, Bernard Zell laid the foundation of Judaism in my life through teaching me Jewish traditions, text, culture, and history. Bernard Zell gave me the unbelievable opportunity to culminate my Jewish studies by traveling to Israel with my eighth-grade class. When I went off to high school and was faced with anti-Israel sentiments in my class, I had the experience and knowledge to stand up for Israel, and took it a step further by joining an Israel advocacy group through Chicago’s Jewish Federation. Now, I am a freshman in college at USC, and have gotten very involved with USC’s Hillel. Joining USC’s Jewish life made my transition across the country so easy, and I have really found my place in it through attending Shabbat dinners, helping plan Jewish social events, and being a member of Trojans for Israel. It was Bernard Zell that engrained in me the necessity of seeking out Jewish communities no matter where life takes me, because the future success of the Jewish people lies in the hands of my generation. 

Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning
Mi"shenichnas Adar Marbin B"Simcha  משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה

When the month of Adar begins, have lots of fun! (because Purim is on the way!)      

On Purim, we celebrate the rescue of the Jews of Persia from an awful fate planned for them by that wicked, wicked man, Haman, the king’s advisor.  

The story is told in the Scroll of Esther, Megillat Esther. The Hebrew word פורים, purim, means “lots” as in a lottery. According to the Megillah, Haman planned to destroy the Jews because they were the one people who worshipped their own God and would not bow down to him, and he cast lots to see on what date to schedule their destruction. The lot fell on the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Adar. Then through an interesting set of twists and turns, the plot was undone and his plan was reversed!  















Thanks to brave Queen Esther and wise Uncle Mordechai, Haman and his ten sons are finally hung, Achashverosh reverses the plan to destroy the Jews, and we celebrate by retelling the story each year, and actively drowning out the name of arch-enemy Haman with our gragger/noisemakers.  

So, how do we celebrate this one-day holiday? There are four special ways to mark the day. The mitzvot are mentioned in the Megillah and Bernard Zell students have learned that they all start with the letter מ “mem”.  

The four "Mem"s" to Mark this Mega-fun day are: 

  • Megillah - מגילה  We read about Queen Esther & Mordecai defeat of Haman!
  • Mishteh -  משתה  We enjoy a special Purim feast!   
  • Matanot l"Evyonim -  מתנות לאביוניםWe give Tzedakah
  • Mishloach manot - משלוח מנות We share hamantaschen and other food treats with friends
BUT WAIT! That’s not all! Purim is also a time to have Jewish fun: dress up, wear costumes, hide behind masks, play carnival games, eat hamantaschen and make lots of noise in the one place we’re usually supposed to be quiet.
Briana Allen, Head of Instructional Technology
Every school year parents ask me about how much screen time their children should have. My response always focuses on the idea that screen time is complex and something each family has to negotiate for themselves. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued guidelines in 2011 that recommended no screen time for children under the age of two and two hours of screen time for children over two. We know that sticking to such strict guidelines is a challenge. Our children are constantly exposed to screens throughout the day whether it’s Gas Station TV, the constantly-on TVs in big box stores like Target, in taxis or family cars, or while learning throughout the school day. So, how do parents and educators navigate all of these screens given our daily reliance on screen-based digital information?  
At Bernard Zell, we encourage teachers to choose technologies that will add educational value and provide experiences students might not otherwise have. We also seek technologies that allow students to be active producers of content rather than passive absorbers of information. For example, seventh-grade students use a virtual human body app to view and understand the systems of the body without dissection. Second-grade students have created eBooks filled with text, photos of their drawings, student made videos and their voice recordings to share their knowledge about endangered animals. Senior Kindergarten students wrote their own play and recorded it using the green screen studio as their stage. These experiences enhance students’ learning and provide teachers with the opportunity to understand a students" thinking process and understanding of a concept. 

I encourage parents to help their children engage in activities that are not screen-based as often as possible. I also promote engaging in family activities like board game night, reading a book or an afternoon walk. When I am at home I rarely engage in technology based activities, instead I prefer running, biking, swimming, reading, sewing and crafting, among other activities. 

One idea promoted over the past two years regarding screen time is quality of screen time. Watching a TV show is a passive activity while engaging with friends in Minecraft in order to build a fortress is active and promotes collaboration and communication. Every family must choose what works best for them in terms of the quality and quantity of the screen time children participate in. 

Lindsey Elliot, Junior Kindergarten Teacher
Imagine childrens’ seats set in rows. Building blocks laid out intentionally on the floor as a stage while a piano is being played by a student in the background. Children begin to gather in the center near the stage. Shouts of “Welcome to the show!” can be heard. Children dance, converse, and act out characters they imagined on the wooden block stage; from that moment, a theater production was born.

The theater experience for the students of JK 104 began organically with the children enjoying themselves while acting on a wooden stage. Behind the scenes, it was a production that relied upon teamwork, patience, focus and dedication. The children used their creativity while helping and supporting one another through the process. They brainstormed names and then voted on a theater name. The children chose roles to play and added new roles. Teachers were impressed daily by their learning as well as the ways in which they made their ideas come to life using materials found in the classroom. Through producing invitations, signs, and playbills, the children practiced literacy. Our musicians worked hard learning about music; how to write it, read it and play it. For rehearsals, the children worked together to set up the stage, complete with props and theater seating. They acted as a team, and it showed.
Jacob Baskes, Class of 2015
Bernard Zell 4th-graders have been learning about immigration in their social studies and Jewish Studies classes. In order to gain a better perspective as to ‘why’ immigrants leave their home country, students invited guests to share their unique immigration stories. In the reflection below Bernard Zell alumnus, Jacob Baskes ‘15, shares an account of his great grandparents’ immigration story. 

My great grandparents were both born to Jewish families in small towns in southwestern Poland in the early 1900’s. When not in school, my great grandmother Rochelle would spend her time reading biographies and fiction in an assortment of languages, and also working with her hands (knitting and crocheting). She called herself “the jealous type” when it came to this— if she saw someone doing something that she could not, she would dedicate herself to learning and perfecting the technique. 


Bernard, my great grandfather, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a big name in the European grain trade. He, like my great grandmother, was quite studious. In fact, he was kicked out of his yeshiva for reading a non-religious book under the table. But his resourcefulness and entrepreneurship were traits that would propel him and his family through war-torn Europe and Russia on their journey to America.

The two met for an opera in the mid-1920s and soon fell in love, marrying in 1928. They lived happily and had their first daughter, my grandmother Julie, in 1937. By this time, they had noticed the growing anti-semitism in northern Europe and Russia with the pogroms and Polish concentration camps, but hadn’t foreseen the extent of the destruction to come. On November 9, 1938, Kristallnacht, hundreds of synagogues and Jewish shops were destroyed and many Jews were killed by violent mobs all across the region. My family’s intentions of leaving Europe quickly became serious. But with restrictions on international money transfers, communication, and travel, nothing would be guaranteed for this Polish family of three.

Inbo Gottlieb Fenves, Class of 2015
Ida Kersz is quite different from my grandfather. I mention this, because both Ida Kersz and my grandfather, Steven Fenves, are survivors of the Holocaust. My grandfather and his family were rounded up by Hungarian Nazi collaborators and deported to Auschwitz. Ida’s story is different.  She was smuggled out of the ghetto in Sosnowiec and raised by a Polish Catholic family. Although she was herself Jewish, had been in a ghetto, and had parents who spoke out against persecution, Ida was influenced by the Nazi culture and propaganda that wanted to kill people like her and her parents. So, ironically, as a young girl, Ida herself hated Jews. Hearing this made me realize how malleable people are, especially at a young age.

Survivors have all had different experiences and tell different stories. I think it is important to pay attention to these differences.  While the Holocaust changed people, it did not erase their personalities or the core of who they are. Sometimes t.v. shows and movies present Holocaust survivors in ways that seem more about the idea of the Holocaust than about the actual individuals who survived it. Instead of people with very different characters and interests, we see a type: someone who is brooding, quiet-spoken, and sad. While I think it is important to recognize and remember the awful history of the Holocaust, it is equally important to remember that the survivors are also individuals with unique personalities who have been affected differently by what they went through. For example, as an adult, my grandfather avoided Hungary and disliked speaking Hungarian, while his sister enjoyed traveling there and speaking the language.  

Candace Chesler
Last week the sixth grade successfully completed their outdoor education overnight program held at Camp Beber in Wisconsin. This annual event is a pillar of the sixth-grade experience, and this year I was delighted to partake in the second half of the adventure. 

Upon arrival and entering my cabin, I immediately found myself surrounded by energetic groups of girls, some sharing stories, some braiding hair, some trying out dance routines. What a welcome! It quickly turned into preparing for their next session, which meant I too donned my snowpants and followed the campers to their afternoon classes. After spending some time on the field with a group learning about orienteering and trajectory with a ball tossing challenge, I braved Zeus, the Sheep’s farm territory, and made my way to the Lab Classroom where another group prepared to dissect a squid. I have never considered how much there was to know about squid! Along with the campers, I gaped with the newfound knowledge the counselor-led dissection revealed to me! After we all once again braved making our way past Zeus, there was little down time before dinner. Or, what was supposed to be ‘down time.’ In our cabin, the group decided to stage a flash mob at dinner, so the hour rest time became a planning and rehearsal session! By the time the Waitrons (the campers assigned to Dining Hall set up for the meal) started their pre-dinner responsibilities, our cabin had a full on song-and-dance routine of a mash-up of two pop songs secretly awaiting the right moment at dinner to be shared with the full grade.
Ella Simon, Class of 2016
This is my tenth year at Bernard Zell. 2016 will be my last year here, not only for me but for my family. My grandpa attended Hebrew school here, my cousin was in the class of 2005, and my brother graduated two years ago. As you can see, this school has been the center for my family’s education for almost one hundred years, and it"s all going to end in a couple of months. This school - Bernard Zell -  has not only impacted me, but my family too, and I am deeply grateful.

I just finished reading one of the most classic books of all times, To Kill A Mockingbird  by Harper Lee. If you need a refresher, the book is about a young girl and her brother, Scout and Jem, growing up in a town full of bigotry, right in the middle of the Great Depression. Her father, Atticus, is pegged with the task of defending a black man. Scout and Jem have to face all the violence and shame that comes with their father trying to do the right thing. With many important lessons, one motif I thought was especially significant was the importance of informal learning. Informal learning is learning through experience and participation, not just through books. In the end, the most important lesson that Scout and Jem learn is how to be tolerant, compassionate, and empathetic. They learned how to see beyond people"s common flaws through their own unique experiences. Bernard Zell offers this type of experiential learning every day. Throughout my education here, I didn"t only learn basic lessons in the classroom, like Scout and Jem, I learned how to be a good person. Bernard Zell offered many experiences where I learned key qualities and Jewish values to help me become the person who I am today.

In first grade, I went to the Chicago River as a part of our science studies. We waded in and around the river to look for tiny animals, discovered the history of the river by studying the banks, and picked up trash throughout the day. Everywhere I turned, there was science and exploration, but with all the pollution the river has, I realized  - even as a child so young  - I have  to take personal responsibility to make sure the river stays clean. I experienced the Jewish value of improving the world by taking care of the earth or tikkun olam. Ever since this experience, I have been more mindful of my environment and always seek ways to help - any way I can.  

Noah S. Hartman, Head of School
Head, Heart, and Hand. In my view, this is the core of our philosophy at Bernard Zell and drives our exceptional education. The head refers to academic excellence and scholarship; the heart guides us toward creating strong individual and Jewish identity; while the hand turns learning into action in service toward others.

During our school’s recent State of the School program, I shared with the community my mirror—reflecting on the last six months—and my window, the vision and direction for the months and years to come.

The first of my three key priorities for Bernard Zell was informed both by the Spring 2015 community survey and my own observations. This priority clearly speaks to the “head”:Continued focus on academics, with faculty and staff excellence at the center.

According to a national study on the impact of Jewish day school education commissioned by the Cohen Center at Brandeis University:

  • Jewish day school graduates have the highest levels of academic confidence in college, higher than their peers from either non-Jewish independent schools or public schools.

Academic excellence is and always will be the centerpiece of Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School, and we will not rest on our laurels. From Early Childhood all the way through Middle School, our teachers guide students and motivate them on their academic journey. While we prepare them exceptionally well for more schooling—high school, college, and beyond—we also prepare them for life—pursuing their passions, interests, and talents.

Rena Citrin, Library Director
To help prepare students to live, work, and thrive in a society that values collaboration, innovation, flexibility and resilience, school and public libraries across the country have embraced the “Maker Movement.” The Maker Movement is intended to help young people become problem solvers and independent thinkers. The Bernard Zell library is on board with the movement with the creation of Maker Kits that encourage students to explore diverse topics including: tangrams, bird watching, magic tricks, electric circuitry, music composition, potato chip science, arts and crafts, knot tying, calligraphy (Hebrew and English) and jump rope rhymes, to name only a few. Since September, 42 Maker Kits (more to come) have circulated a total of 368 times! Each is a stand-alone project for students to work on at home. 
Children have abundant interests. Our Maker Kits help ensure that children are engaged, thinking and interacting with more than electronic devices during their free time. I highly recommend two books that can guide parents in the world of tinkering and exploration at home. Both are parent-friendly and fun. The Curious Kid’s Science Book:  100+ Creative Hands-on Activities for Ages 4-8 by Asia Citro is an exciting book of experiments that follows the scientific method at an appropriate level for young learners. Make a commitment to doing an experiment a week or every two weeks together, and see how much you and your child learn in a most enjoyable way.

Rachelle Doorley’s outstanding book, Tinkerlab:  A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors is an essential text for homes with young children ages 3-8.  Part science experiments, part arts and crafts, and part serendipity, Doorley divides this volume into experiences in four categories:  design, build, concoct and discover.  Using materials mostly found around the house, you can present “invitations” to help extend your child’s inquiry in expected and unexpected ways.  Tinkerlab is fun and exciting and will reveal its value with a little effort from parents.

Maker Kits allow students and parents to “dive deep” together. We have found that they are often the jumping off point for independent expeditionary learning, a deeply held value in our school.

Candace Chesler
Winter break is upon us and means a well-deserved reprieve for our students from the regular comings and goings of schedules and usual obligations. Parents often ask us for tips on ensuring learning continues during these two weeks away from school so we thought we would share some family friendly activities you might enjoy:
  • Read for pleasure: Winter break provides the perfect opportunity to read for fun, especially those new books purchased at our Bernard Zell book fair or received as Hanukkah gifts. Take time to read with your child, whatever their age. Enjoy the closeness it brings and the conversations that come.
  • Cook together: Invite your child to meal plan with you and then assist in the kitchen. Not only will it give them a sense of pride in their own competencies but it will allow them to practice many important math concepts like measurement and fractions.
  • Write and send thank you notes: Writing notes of appreciation for Hanukkah gifts not only teaches gratitude but allows your children to practice writing skills.
  • Car ride games: Turn a ride to any destination into an opportunity to look for license plates from different states,  to sort cars by color and keep track using tally marks, or to try to  find every letter of the alphabet in the license plates you see.
  • Shopping assistance: Have your child help choose what to buy, decide how much you need, check your supplies to see what you"ve already got, or write or draw pictures on your list. Give your children  a certain amount of money and put them in charge of finding and purchasing a few items on your list. See if they can  figure out if they have enough money to purchase what you have asked for and how much change they should receive. If they don"t have enough money, how much more will they need?
  • Family game nights: Many favorite games reinforce skills such as counting, computation, reading, drawing and problem solving. Playing games with the whole family can also foster great conversations, opportunities for building resilience around winning and losing, and just plain fun.
  • Participate in family tzedakah: Do some early spring-cleaning and help your child sort through their neglected toys and too small clothes. With your child, take these items to organizations who collect donations for children in need; perhaps you can even meet with some of their clients or speak to a member of the organization so your child can better understand the importance of helping those who are not as fortunate.
Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader
This post is the second part of the focus on addition with conceptual understanding rather than rote procedures.  If you haven’t already, please read my preceding post about fact fluency.

Multi-Digit Addition: As students progress past the basic facts, they work on adding multi-digit numbers.  If you think of when you most often use addition, you’ll probably recognize that like most adults you add 2 or even 3 digit numbers mentally in your head.  When it comes time to add larger numbers, don’t you most often reach for a calculator?  It is important in the primary grades to strengthen children’s number sense so they can mentally add numbers.  As noted in a previous post, when children are immediately introduced to the standard algorithm for addition (“carrying”),  they tend to get stuck and have difficulty using number sense and being flexible with numbers.  With the Common Core State Standards, students are encouraged to use strategies that rely on number sense and make sense to them.  Through a routine called “Number Talks” and general classroom activities, students share their various strategies.  In time, they learn to look at a problem first and choose a strategy that is most efficient for that particular calculation.   As you look at the following common strategies for addition, notice which make most sense to you, which you use most often, and which you think are most efficient for certain types of problems. Which do you see your children using? (There are also common strategies for multi-digit subtraction, multiplication and division.)

Examples of Strategies for Multi-Digit Addition

 Strategy   Example 
Adds multiples of 10

65+40 = 65+10+10+10+10=105

 Makes ten or uses other "friendly numbers"

36+48 = 36+(4+44) = 40+44 = 84

Splits the second addend or adds up in chunks

47+38 = 47+(30+8) = 77+8 = 85

Uses partial sums or splits both addends

38+45 = (30+8)+(40+5) = 70+13 = 83

Uses doubles or near doubles

38+39 = 40+40-3 = 77

Uses associative property for three or more addends

15+28+15 = (15+15)+ 28 = 30+28 = 58

Candace Chesler
Our world is surrounded by technology; information, commerce, communication and entertainment all rely on computers, but only a tiny fraction of us learn the basics of how computers work, or how to create software, apps, or websites. Last week, in honor of Computer Science Week, Bernard Zell students in grades Senior Kindergarten through eight participated in coding activities to learn more about being creative technology users.  

Middle School students kicked off Computer Science week first thing Monday morning by creating a brick breaker-style game using the object-oriented programming app, Tynker. Engaging the entire Middle School in one place at the same time helped students see that coding is for everyone. Students and teachers were invested in completing the activity, crossing grade levels to assist each other and encouraging each other in their good struggles. Students were able to use their ‘aha’ moments to support classmates and teach their teachers a bit about programming in the process. Students were engaged and good struggles were had by all providing them with an an accessible program with which to continue programming with classmates or on their own.

Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader
For those of you reading my blogs, first of all a huge thank you!  Second, you may remember in my last post about standard algorithms, I promised to follow up with a look at the use of number sense rather than rote procedures for addition and subtraction.  This shift is part of the Common Core State Standards’ overall focus on conceptual understanding rather than rote memorization.  For the sake of ease and brevity I am going to focus on addition, recognizing that much of what I write applies to other operations as well.  This week’s post discusses fluency with the basic addition facts.  The following post will look at multi-digit addition.

Fluency with the basic facts: First, let’s dispel the myth that mastery of the basic facts is not important.  It is!  The basic facts are indispensable for estimation, mental math, and the strengthening of number sense.  What has changed is the focus on how students master the facts.  A wealth of research shows that focusing on memorization of the facts through isolated practice, repetition, and timed tests is not effective for many children and can be quite damaging, causing anxiety and turning students off math.  Many studies (I can provide them if you are interested) show automaticity with the facts is best achieved through an understanding of numerical relationships and number strategies. By looking at the common strategies and examples listed below,  you can see how they build on children’s understanding and flexible use of number relationships rather than rote memorization to gain automaticity, which comes with time.  (There are also common strategies for fluency of subtraction, multiplication and division basic facts.)

Examples of Strategies for Basic Addition Facts
 Strategy   Example 
 Uses commutative property  3+8 = 8+3
 Makes groups of five  6+7 = (5+1)+(5+2) = 10+3
 Makes ten  8+7 = 8+(2+5) = 10+5
 Uses doubles +/- 1   4+5 = (4+4+1) or (5+5-1)
 Uses other known facts as base   9+8 = 10+8-1  or   6+8 = 6+6+2
 Uses compensation and equivalence  6+8 = 7+7
Candace Chesler
Not everyone learns in the same way. This has now been proven repeatedly  through research in cognition, learning, and the brain. The ability to recognize children as individuals and differentiate teaching and learning has become  a tenet of successful teaching and educational programs that foster motivation and success for a diverse group of students.  For this reason, the Learning Services Department at Bernard Zell aims to do more than support students with diagnosed learning challenges, such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, and ADHD. We seek to work with the community to develop a school culture that normalizes and celebrates different learning styles and cognitive diversity.  

There is a key understanding that undermines this aim.  Human beings have different innate traits and learning experiences.  We all have a kaleidoscope of characteristics within the domains of neuropsychological functioning: sensory, motor, cognitive skills like memory, language, and executive functioning.  A neuropsychological characteristic may exist along a continuum from a difficulty to a disorder for one person and yet may be a natural talent in others.  These characteristics may impact a child’s ability to listen, speak, read, write, compute, organize, relate socially, or execute tasks efficiently - tasks that are controversially measured as the primary markers of success during school years.  Some students need a different approach to learning  skills than others to reach their full potential in school. They also need guidance to discover strengths and resilience not traditionally measured by school report cards, but that may very well lead them into next century careers and success beyond school. 

Bernard Zell Learning Services employs five Learning and Behavioral Specialists.  Learning Specialists at each grade level have common planning time with their grade-level teachers. They push into classrooms weekly and this allows our students to recognize them as resources - additional teachers that are there to support not just certain students, but everyone’s learning in the classroom. They also coordinate often with the Social Work team, Bonnie Gamze and Alyssa Brescia, to help students understand and articulate their own learning styles and become effective self-advocates. 

Motoko Maegawa, Head of Middle School
The Fifth-Grade Shabbaton is one of my favorite Middle School trips of the entire school year. There are many reasons why I so appreciate this particular experience, not the least of which is each individual fifth grader! Truly, the opportunity to spend two days with the newest Middle Schoolers under these special circumstances is such a blessing. I treasure the moments to get to know them better while we share in celebrating Shabbat in both active and quiet ways at Camp Chi. The variety of activities in which we participate are fun, reflective, and thought-provoking, ranging from baking challah to reading from the Torah, from play time in the gymnasium to quiet walks through the trails at night. Every aspect of this trip fosters our ability to get to know our students in meaningful ways. 
Another reason that I so enjoy the Shabbaton is that the students learn about themselves and each other beyond what they knew before, even after years of being in classes together. Being off-site with peers and faculty creates opportunities for discovery of self, others, and values. Fifth graders come away from this special weekend with a newfound sense of self and understanding of their place in the fifth grade community. The Shabbaton connects each and every one of us to our particular Jewish journey in different and yet very memorable ways. 
Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader
First of all, what is a standard algorithm? It is a specific method of computation which has been conventionally taught in schools. For addition, you probably were taught or have heard the method referred to as “carrying.” For subtraction, you are probably familiar with “borrowing.”  

These types of computational methods are quite abstract and are most often taught as a set of procedures to follow. (Think: add the digits in the place to the farthest right, put part of the sum below in the answer and carry the other part to the place to the left. Sound familiar?)  You were probably taught to calculate this way, and perhaps you still do, even mentally in your mind when you don’t have paper and pencil.  

So if it works well for you, why not teach it to your child, right? Well, these standard algorithms are taught to students in Lower School, but not until the end of third grade or the beginning of fourth grade. Why not sooner you may be wondering?

We are striving for depth of conceptual understanding in math. We want students to understand why procedures work, not just memorize a set of steps and plug in numbers to make it work.  The first priority is building up students’ “number sense,” which includes understanding the magnitude of numbers and relationships between numbers, being flexible with numbers and using mental math, and estimating and judging the reasonableness of answers.

For example, the problem 36+47 can be solved in numerous ways. How many can you think of?  Children surprise us each day with the creative and flexible ways they manipulate these numbers for easier calculation. They have learned how to decompose and recompose the numbers in a variety of ways.  

When children are taught the standard algorithm early on, however, they typically become “stuck” with this method.  We often see children who have learned these rote methods develop a fixed mindset and have greater difficulty being flexible with numbers.  While the standard algorithms may seem easy to you, even doing them mentally, that is probably because you have been using them for so long.  There are lots of easy and efficient strategies that are based on true number sense.  For example, isn’t there an easier way to add 99+37 than “carrying?”

So, bottom line, when to teach standard algorithms?  The general rule of thumb is to hold off until your child demonstrates comfort with mentally adding or subtracting two digit numbers using strategies based on number sense, or recomposing the numbers for easier manipulation.  The standard algorithm is taught after this stage and is used mostly for adding three or more digit numbers or a long string of numbers. 

Stay tuned for the next blog which will focus on children across the grades using number sense to mentally add and subtract numbers!

Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader
Many families have asked the question, “What can I do with my child at home to support his or her math education?” As educators, we greatly appreciate your willingness to partner with us on your children’s learning journey! To help, here is a list of some great websites which feature engaging, challenging and conceptually-focused math activities. It is important that students’ view of math include more than a narrow focus on calculations and quickly finding a single correct answer. The activities on these sites help strengthen students’ (and adults’) skills in problem solving, estimation, logical reasoning, critical thinking, and visual pattern recognition. Have fun!

Bedtime Math is a site that provides a daily “cool math fact” and then follows it up with math riddles at different levels called “Wee Ones,” “Little Kids,” and “Big Kids.” It’s great for 5-10 minute family math explorations and discussions. Check out the app too!

Youcubed at Stanford University is an amazing site that provides activities listed under “Tasks” that can be selected by math topic, concept, practice, and grade level.The site also has great educational articles, research, free courses, games, and apps.

Estimation 180 is a site devoted specifically to the important skill of estimation. It presents over 220 different estimation challenges to help students (and adults!) improve both their number sense and problem solving abilities.

Martin Gardner’s Puzzles helped increase the popularity of “Recreational Math.” These puzzles focus on the enjoyment of puzzle solving, recognition of  visual patterns, and use of logical and deductive skills. These brain teasers can be tough!

Greg Tang Math - While there are other things on Greg’s website, what really stands out are the games. Some games are designed to help solidify facts while others focus on strengthening conceptual understanding of the four operations. 

Tzivia Garfinkel, Head of Jewish Studies
When you walk into any classroom at Bernard Zell, you’ll see an American flag and an Israeli flag. Our children grow up with these flags and they are part of an environmental curriculum reflecting our school’s mission and visions.  

While the Israeli flag is the flag of Medinat Yisrael, the State of Israel, it is also a “Jewish flag” that waves proudly in Jewish schools, synagogues, community centers, and institutions around the world. In the same way, HaTikvah, the national anthem of Israel, is sung by our students after the Pledge of Allegiance and the Star Spangled Banner when we gather as a community. We sing it as an anthem expressing an ultimate Jewish idea about being a free people in its eternal homeland.  

Listening to our young students sing HaTikvah, and to our older students say the Prayer for Peace in the State of Israel, provides a glimpse of how we deliberately build connections between ourselves and our extended family. We recognize that these connections do not get formed automatically, and so we cultivate and nurture them so that Bernard Zell students recognize that “Kol Yisrael Chaverim” - the Jewish people are united in friendship around the world.  

Noah S. Hartman, Head of School
I have had the honor of serving Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School as Head of School since July. Founded in 1946, our school was created to bring the best of progressive education and Jewish heritage to Chicago’s Jewish community. The founders believed we had a responsibility to shape future generations with the brightest minds and the most compassionate hearts.
Today, Bernard Zell is an independent school for the 21st century where academic purpose, collaborative learning, and a deep commitment to humanity develop engaged, confident learners and compassionate leaders for a stronger, more vibrant community and world. I could not be more proud to lead our school at this pivotal time as together we evolve beyond traditional learning models and harness our collective energy to empower our children for their future.
The 541 students who attend our school experience this extraordinary mission coming to life each and every day. Our classrooms are studios for exploration and academic study inspired by Jewish values, changing the game for elementary school. Our Early Childhood, infused with the Reggio Emilia philosophy, is an environment where young children’s natural curiosity is a compass for learning and where they experience wonder and amazement at every turn.
Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader
How is the Bernard Zell Lower School “focused on and committed to making sure our kids have the mathematical foundation to carry them to the next level...Middle School and beyond?”  This great question from a parent was the starting point for my presentation on Lower School math at our fall Open House.

We first need to take a serious look at what is needed “beyond” our students’ Lower School years. What skill sets and characteristics will help ensure our children are productive adults and citizens? The term, 21st Century Skills, refers to important traits such as perseverance, problem solving abilities, critical thinking, and collaborative skills. Such traits are in high demand in people entering the workforce. Even in everyday life, there is less of a need to be able to calculate quickly, and more need to be able to reason, justify ideas, ask questions, and represent concepts in different ways.

So how do we build these 21st Century Skills in our students in terms of math? First, we need to provide a balanced math program. Such a program is comprised of three important components: procedural and factual knowledge, conceptual understanding, and problem solving. Our students need to be able not only to “do math”, but also to make sense of what they are doing so they can apply the knowledge in other contexts and use it to tackle real life questions and problems.

In addition to these three components, we also need to focus on strengthening our students’ mathematical habits of mind. These eight habits of mind, which the Common Core State Standards call “Math Practices”, go hand in hand with the content standards. These habits of mind, such as attention to precision and using tools strategically, are actually what help children learn math content.

Building a balanced math program and strengthening students’ habits of minds are what we are working on in the Lower School. I am beyond thrilled to join this community and go on this journey together!


Tzivia Garfinkel, Head of Jewish Studies
Shalom! As I walk through school these days my eyes take in the many signs that surround us urging us to “BE”. The signs are bold. Be compassionate! Be courageous! Be curious! Be spirited! Be involved! Be authentic! Be yourself! And, on the door to my office, Be Jewish.  (Really!) 

Being urged to "be" has special meaning in the first month of the Jewish year, the month of Tishrei. Tishrei follows the last month of the year, in which we were invited to consider how we have been in the past year and how/who we want to "be" in the new year.

This idea connects directly with the values that we have identified to guide life at Bernard Zell.  One of these values is “Tzelem Elohim”, which translates as “image of God”. The Torah teaches us that all human beings are created B’Tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. In thinking about this value, we often examine the obligation we therefore have to treat others with dignity and respect as all people are created in the image. We tend to explore this value in terms of the “other” and not in terms of the “self”. But were we to return and consider the words themselves, they tell us that each one of us is created in the image of God. And that is a powerful and puzzling idea. Especially since we know that God does not possess a body, is incorporeal. So, how are we to understand what is meant by the “image of God”? This idea of “being created in the image” contains within it a challenge of enormous proportion. Implied is not only how we treat others, but also how we will be ourselves. It challenges us to consider: what is my potential? What is my ultimate “BEing” and how can I approach realizing this self? The words that surround us on our new being signs, are a great place to start!    

May this year be a sweet and good year, filled with potential for you and your families.

Candace Chesler
With deepest gratitude, I have been blessed to spend 5,781,600 minutes so dear leading this most remarkable school. It was eleven years ago when I delivered my first graduation speech to the Class of 2005 and quoted the following lyrics from the song, “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent:

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

As I reflect upon my years in this community and each minute so dear, it remains difficult to put into words the emotional connection we have to BZAEDS, much like trying to describe being in Israel, it is at the core, a feeling in your heart.