Joe Hirsch, a student in the new Executive Model Doctoral Program, cites a recent online module on spirituality as inspiring this blog post published in the Times of Israel. Joe is one of 31 doctoral students engaged in coursework this semester, who range from highly experienced school leaders to those recently joining the field of Jewish education. Joe characterizes the doctoral coursework as “a meaningful (and life enhancing) learning experience” and feels “blessed to be studying with such a smart, capable group of educators in this program. http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/seeking-god-in-a-jewish-education/
Please read the latest Edutopia article by our own, Joe Hirsch:
As Americans recover from their Thanksgiving holiday of family and feasting, I am thinking about the power of giving thanks – from a psychological and educational perspective. Is being thankful a healthy choice, and if so, how can we infuse our schools and our lives with gratitude?
I am reminded of a trip to a vacation resort. When my electric keys no longer functioned, I waited at the front desk, behind others arriving for a week of pampering and enjoyment. My turn came, and a smiling attendant offered re-programmed keys, and a “thank you for your patience”. I answered without thinking, “It’s easy to be patient in paradise”. The desk clerk’s smile broadened as he said; “You just made my day”.
Judging by my comment’s reception, expressing gratitude may have gone out of style. This, at the same time that research on the growing field of positive psychology identifies gratitude as a characteristic that can promote resilience, increase our self-esteem, build our relationships, improve our sleep and our mood, reduce our stress, boost our immune system and even lower our blood pressure. Gratitude is clearly good for our health!
Gratitude is generally understood as the combination of both feelings and expression of appreciation, a sense of wonder and thankfulness for life. Yet although gratitude is good for us, modern cultural attitudes and practices may thwart both graciousness and gratitude. Are we too entitled, feeling we deserve good treatment, why should we have to be nice to those who provide it? Are we immune to the great comforts that make our lives safe, because we take them for granted? In our techno-driven world, are we so engrossed in the land of texts and buzzes that our only sign of gratitude has been abbreviated to the barely recognizable Tx?
If we want to raise a healthy generation that can both experience the wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life that is gratitude, and that can enjoy all the health and psychological benefits thanks-giving can offer, then we may need to ramp up our efforts. We need to focus, and help the children and students in our lives focus on what we have. We should be asking our children and students to write about and tell us what they are thankful for, at least as often as we ask where is their homework. We need to directly teach the art and skill of the gracious “thank you”. We need to model thankfulness, replacing our “kvetching” about how much work a holiday means with our unbridled joy at the opportunity to share good times, and hopefully good health, with family and friends.
Some may shudder at this seemingly “feel good” approach to teaching and parenting, concerned that expressing thanks and gratitude will create children addicted to thanks. I for one am proud to admit that I am a gratitude junkie. I like when my employer demonstrates appreciation of my efforts, with intangibles like verbal congratulations, and even with tangibles like promotions! I like when my spouse tells me how much he appreciates my home decorating. Nothing makes my day as much as when my children visit, lift the cover off a pot in the kitchen and wax poetic about my cooking! I believe I would work, cook, and decorate no matter what, but all those bits of gratitude fuel my efforts, and make them seem even more worthwhile.
I am just as hooked on giving thanks. I thank my mailman, the dry cleaners, the faculty that works so diligently with me, the students who enrich my learning, the friends and family who offer their well wishes in good times, and support in bad times. Gratitude, social scientists tell us, is catching. Upstream generativity have resulted in so many paying it forward that our world can feel warmer, nicer, kinder. This contagion effects of thanks-giving may occur not because of what giving does for others, but because of how it makes us feel. We truly get when we give.
Preparing for a season of gifts and celebration, we have the wonderful opportunity to teach ourselves and our children what A. A. Milne’s Piglet knew; even a very small heart can hold a very large amount of gratitude. And in holding that gratitude, in sharing that gratitude, perhaps the very small hearts in our care will grow larger, healthier, and stronger.
With heartfelt thanks and wishes for a happy healthy season of thanks-giving.
Rona Milch Novick, PhD
Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and
BH 313, 500 W 185 Street
New York, NY 10033
212-960-5400 x 6363
Many of us woke this morning to news, emails, facebook posts sharing the painful news of the terror attack in Har Nof. Many Jewish students, whether in day schools or congregational Hebrew schools, have become accustomed to having their Israeli counterparts in their prayers. Many Jewish students outside Israel have deep, meaningful and very real connections to people and places in Israel. The places we hear as being under attack are not abstractions, we davened in that shul in Har Nof, our cousins live in the same neighborhood as Naftali Fraenkel, one of the boys murdered by terrorists this summer. Today’s events, although an ocean away, feel painfully close. How we can help our children and students make sense of such tragedy and cope in these challenging times.
As parents and educators, we have to do what we always have to do in times of challenge and trauma. We have to be the grown-ups. Sobbing and panicky inside, we need to present ourselves as capable of resilience and protection, as taking all the right steps. Of course, right now, every educator and every parent is wondering just what are the right steps, when fresh images of violence fill our minds, and adults, themselves, are grieving. Here are some important guidelines, for adults and the children in our care.
Normalize the response –Physically, emotionally, intellectually, or in combination, trauma can cause us to feel out of sorts in a way that is often distressful. It is important for us to allow ourselves our grief, our increased distractibility, as part of a normal response to an abnormal situation. Communicating this to children is so important in helping them recognize that they are not alone or “weird” to be struggling as they are. Educators and parents listen for both sadness and resilience in their children’s current stories. We should be ready to sit strong and patient as they share feelings of vulnerability and danger. We should watch tv with our children and students, prepared to address any disturbing images they see.
Address basic needs, provide safety and material comforts – The Red Cross, and other relief agencies well know that providing food, shelter, and fulfilling primary needs is at least as important as providing psychological comfort. We should be prepared to provide some extra cuddling or other TLC, to be a bit lenient with bedtimes and homework due dates. Adults need to remember, too, what every airline stewardess knows, “if the cabin loses air pressure, and oxygen masks drop from above, take care of yourself, before assisting others”. Adults need to see to their basic needs and comfort, so that they will have the emotional resources to care for their children and students.
Maintain/create social connection and sense of belonging – Tragedy can make us feel alone, and cause us to withdraw, yet spending time with people is critical for resilience. Rather than distance ourselves and our children from the pain in Har Nof, we can connect in meaningful ways, writing letters, sending our wishes, praying for the lost and wounded, making ourselves part of a caring community.
Re-establish routine and control – Trauma and loss upset life’s patterns, and erode one’s sense of predictability and control. For most of us this loss does not impact our daily routine. Parents and educators need to balance the benefit of adding special programs and lessons to give voice to children’s concerns, with the comfort of maintaining established routines.
Finding purpose/meaning – There is no doubt that how individuals understand tragic events and the meaning they assign them, impacts coping and resilience. While early psychological approaches to coping eschewed spirituality, modern conceptualizations of resilience and recovery put faith at the forefront. Children may ask challenging spiritual questions at such times. Much more important than adults having the answers, is our willingness to tolerate the questioning. Easier to address are the questions “what can we do”; “how can we help”. Research underscores the strength-building power of becoming part of the solution, or serving in a helping role. Adults help children make meaning in times of great loss and tragedy, when they engage them in meaningful, compassionate giving of themselves.
When we think of the terror and tragedy, and when we know there are those who wish it to continue, it is easy for us to become paralyzed and overwhelmed. But we cannot withdraw from children at these difficult times, nor greet them with silence. Our children and students need to see that we see beyond trauma and tragedy. They need us to help them see a world where even in terrible moments, adults are here, listening, protecting, and getting ready for tomorrow.
This link is to enter the Atid Day School Challenge. Share an idea you are using in your classroom! Share your creative ideas and you could win $1,000.
KUDOS to our own Joe Hirsch whose letter to the editor was printed in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion page this past weekend. For those of you who may have missed it, I’m including it here. Who said you need a doctorate in order to be published
Great Teachers Teach Students, Not Subjects
The best educators I know teach students, not subjects, and they actively nurture life-enhancing qualities like grit, teamwork and generosity.
Nov. 7, 2014 5:50 p.m. ET
I’m a classroom teacher with two master’s degrees, and I’m working toward a doctorate. I appreciate Joel Klein ’s call for greater credentialing and certification in the profession (“A Lesson Plan for A+ Teachers,” Review, Nov. 1). But his proposal to remake American teachers in the mold of their Finnish counterparts overlooks the most essential goal of education: to produce better human beings.
The best educators I know teach students, not subjects, and they actively nurture life-enhancing qualities like grit, teamwork and generosity. These virtues and others like them comprise the “total education” of a child and should be prized by any teacher entering the field. They certainly won’t show up on one of Mr. Klein’s bar exams but are just as indicative of a teacher’s professional readiness as his or her mastery of material. Schools that are staffed by highly trained but morally ambivalent teachers will simply become grading factories, not goodness incubators. To be truly effective practitioners, teachers need standards that have soul.
‘Twas the Night before Christmas: A look at “Nittel-Nacht”
Dr. Moshe Sokolow
To refrain deliberately from Torah study is uncharacteristic behavior for any religious Jew, let alone for people of piety and devotion. And yet, that is precisely what many of the pious and devoted regularly do two times each year: on Tish`a b’Av and on Christmas Eve. Abstinence from Torah—itself, an invariable source of joy—on Tish`a b’Av is a visible sign of mourning and, as such, it is prescribed for occasions of personal bereavement as well. Abstention from Torah on Christmas Eve, however, has a far more complicated—even labyrinthine—history.
The Mishnah (c. 200 CE) prohibited trade between Jews and Gentiles on Gentile festivals out of concern lest the Gentile celebrate his commercial success through worship, making the Jew an inadvertent accomplice to idolatry. During the 12th-13th centuries, Ashkenazi scholars ameliorated the Talmudic legislation to meet the needs of their society by distinguishing between contemporary Christians and the idolaters of yore. Yet even under these relaxed restrictions, trade on Christmas Eve (and on Easter) remained prohibited. Indeed, one of the earliest explicit references to Christmas as “Nittel” occurs in a responsum of Rabbi Israel Isserlein (Austria, 1390-1460) that includes a restriction on social contacts with Christians on the eighth day of Christmas, i.e., New Year’s Day.
The etymology of “Nittel” is moot. Some see its origin in the Latin for birth (abbreviated from natali domini, birth of the lord) and related to the more familiar “nativity.” Others derive it from a Semitic root that yields either “the one who was taken” or “the one who was hung” (depending on whether it is spelled with a Hebrew TET or TAV). In either case, it appears to be a euphemism for Jesus, adopted either out of a religious concern, to shun explicit reference to an alien deity, or as a practical measure, to avoid Christian censorship.
The custom of foregoing Torah study on Christmas Eve is unattested to before the 15th century and, since its appearance, has frequently been challenged. The Hatam Sofer (Rabbi Moses Sofer of Pressburg, 1762-1839, an acerbic critic of the nascent Reform movement), for instance, expressed skepticism over the practice. He recommends going to sleep early, waking at midnight, then resuming a full course of study. He also notes a practice of keeping the mikveh (ritual bath) closed that night and explicitly calls it a foolish custom (minhag shetut). Other sources (cited in the literature on laws and customs) view it as a preventive measure, intended to keep Jews off the streets and thereby protect them against anti-Semitic excesses that were perpetrated on that night. As reasonable a motive as this might seem, however, public prayer on Christmas Eve was never abolished although it, too, surely would have put Jews in harm’s way.
While the custom appears to be rooted in the Ashkenazi Jewish historical experience (and is, in fact, absent in Sefardi sources), not all Ashkenazim viewed it alike. Hasidim have tended to be more punctilious in its observance—some Hassidic rebbes would neither study nor receive requests from their Hasidim before midnight—whereas the Lithuanian yeshivot (academies) deigned to interrupt their customary Torah studies. Indeed, their deans (rashei yeshivah) were outspoken in their opposition to the abstention from Torah study on any grounds (some would say in deliberate reproach of the Hasidim). There were also distinctions between those living among Roman Catholics, who observe Christmas on December 25, and those in Slavic lands where Orthodox Christmas is observed on January 7.
Neither of those two dates, of course, carries any significance according to the Jewish calendar, a fact that has led to considerable speculation concerning a public fast day (ta`anit tzibbur) prescribed by the authoritative Shulhan Arukh—for no express reason—for the 9th of Tevet. Based upon the calculations of a 12th century rabbi and astronomer, Abraham bar Hiyya, it has been conjectured that this marks Jesus’ Jewish birthday. (Some even suggest that “Nittel” stands for Nolad Yeshu Tet L’Tevet.) That religious authorities would have ordered a public fast day to mark the occasion of Jesus’ birth is a sign of their consternation over the long-term impact of Christianity on the Jewish people; that they obscured the reason theretofore is a sign of their circumspection. A popular explanation for customs observed on “Nittel” links them to occult, Kabbalistic notions of essential evil (kelipot) and their proliferation on Jesus’ birthday.
To those Jews who abjured public Torah study on Christmas Eve, the question naturally arose: What to do instead? To many, the answer is simplicity itself: Study Torah at home! To others, who may either have misapprehended the nature of the prohibition or were, in any event, seeking a reprieve from study, another answer was: play cards! It may be only a coincidence that card playing is first noted among Jews in 1415, around the time that “Nittel” is first mentioned, but, once introduced, card playing, like all games of chance, cast an addictive spell over European Jewry. Numerous communal attempts to ban the practice succeeded only in abating it, with exemptions formally granted on minor festive occasions including rosh hodesh (new moon), Hanukkah and Purim. It was also specifically sanctioned on Christmas (curiously paralleling the practice of otherwise temperate Christians at Cambridge University in the time of John Milton).
Alternatives to card playing include chess, and the proximity of Christmas Eve to Hanukkah suggests that dreidel play was invented to pass the time on “Nittel.” Indeed, a gambling game with a spinning top (called a teetotum), first mentioned in the 16th century, was popular in Europe at Christmastime. More unusual is the custom of reading Toledot Yeshu, a medieval Jewish version of the Life of Jesus, and even more unusual—to the point of being nearly apocryphal—is the custom to spend the evening tearing toilet paper for use throughout the year on Shabbat and festivals (when tearing is prohibited).
What do New York Jews do in observance of “Nittel”? Some synagogues have capitalized on the status of Christmas as a legal holiday to feature family-wide programs of Jewish learning. On the Upper West Side, Christmas Eve seems to be a preferred time to see the latest movie of choice in a local theater. Invariably, when the lights go on after the screening the audience exchanges greetings of recognition with one another, often in Hebrew or Yiddish. Perhaps a kosher concession stand or a minyan for ma`ariv is next?
Moshe Sokolow holds the Fanya Gottesfeld-Heller Chair at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration of Yeshiva University, and is the author of Hatzi Nehama: Studies in the Weekly Parashah based on the Lessons of Nehama Leibowitz
As the Chanukah lights flicker, be reminded that mitzvot are likened to candles whose sum provide the light of Torah. So too your mission as Jewish educators is to enlighten and inspire your students to mitzvot, as you ignite the fire of Torah within them.
Chanukah Sa-meach from all of us at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education!
Our own Dr. Moshe Sokolow writes about the survival of the Western Wall. http://shma.com/2013/10/the-western-wall-an-arabian-gift/
- Rabbi Yossi Bennettt:
Rabbi Yossi Bennettt, originally of Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, NY, graduated YU’s High School for Boys before learning at various yeshivot in Israel, during which time he earned his BA in Talmudic Law and certification from Torah Educators Institute, a division of Torah Umesorah. After returning tothe United States, he learned at Yeshiva Shor Yoshuv for a little over six years, where he earned his rabbinical ordination and his Master’s in Talmudic Law.
“I decided to attend Azrieli for my Master’s because I saw it as a tremendous opportunity to learn and glean from some of the most talented personalities in the field of Jewish education,” said Bennett. “I was excited to develop a more solid understanding of concrete methodologies and pedagogy in the field to which I have decided to devote my life.”
In particular, Bennett praised Dr. Rona Novick, Director, Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Division of Doctoral Studies, and Dr. Pelcovitz, to opening his eyes to the enormous amount of psychology necessary to serve as a proper educator. He also spoke highly of Dr. Moshe Krakowski’s course, Learning and Cognition and Dr. Glanz, who introduced to him the concepts of curriculum and assessment and their roles in education.
“I think the two courses that affected my teaching the most, though, were Dr. Laya Salomon’s course on Differentiated Instruction (DI) and Rabbi Dr. Chaim Feuerman’s course on Models of Teaching,” said Bennett. “Both courses, although very different, had a tremendous amount of practical, implementable techniques which I have since incorporated into my teaching.” [Dr. Salomon is the Director of the Mendheim Student Teaching and Internship Project and Rabbi Dr. Feuerman is the Project’s Chair and the Golda Koschitzky Chair in Jewish Education.]
He continued, “Dr. Salomon removed a lot of the fear of DI that I had felt prior to her course. She instructed, critiqued and suggested how to utilize DI to the fullest in my particular situation and completely understood when something didn’t “fit” with me or my students. Rabbi Dr. Feuerman’s course, although it seemed very elementary, changed a lot of how I teach and forced me to be more aware of what I am doing in the classroom from CFU’s to chavrusa learning to positive, intrinsic reinforcement.”
He currently serves as the assistant principal of Mesivta Ateres Yaakov (MAY) on Long Island, in addition to directing both the athletic program and college guidance department. “I have been making changes and suggestions to preexisting curricula, styles of teaching and methods of assessment, among other things, based on what I learned at Azrieli. I hope that one day, I will be able to develop my philosophy of education to influence an even larger audience and on a broader scale,” he said. Bennett lives on the Lawrence/Far Rockaway border with his wife, Malkie, and their four children, Akiva, Shira, Moshe and Atara.