Friday, May 31, 2019

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

As the end of my third year as preschool director approaches, I’ve been thinking about how much we’ve accomplished together.
736x489 Image Children Playing Clip Art 2 

The preschool has a STEAM Lab, where the children explore concepts related to science, technology, engineering, art, and math; where they create and problem solve; where they collaborate and experiment with their peers; where they find new solutions to old problems; and where they prepare themselves for the challenges of the future.

Every December, the children shop at our Chanukah Bazaar to find gifts for their families, learning about giving as well as receiving in the process. We celebrate Purim every year with an increasingly hilarious Purimspiel, put on by the teachers. Every March, we spend a week focused on literacy, which culminates in a Storybook Day celebration when everyone is encouraged to dress up as their favorite character from children’s literature. It warms my heart when a child comes to school dressed as Frida Kahlo or the fictional Miss Viola Swamp.

We’ve found a way to bring Israel to the children (or the children to Israel, depending on your point of view) every year on Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Just last month, after flying El Al and getting our passports stamped and currency exchanged in Tel Aviv, we went shopping at the shuk in Jerusalem, ate snack in a Bedouin tent in Beersheva, went fishing in Eilat, collaged doors blue in Tzfat, and undertook an engineering challenge in Haifa. Next year, Jerusalem!

As I’ve been fortunate to say many times in this space over the past three years, our playground, gross motor play space, and classrooms have been able to acquire more high-quality toys, games, and equipment, thanks in whole part to this community’s generosity.

Finally, all our teachers have been able to participate in professional development by attending the Federation’s annual Jewish Early Childhood Education Conference along with hundreds of their colleagues from around the Beltway. We’ve also brought in presenters to learn more about STEAM, early literacy, room design, and serving children with special needs.

Looking ahead, I’m excited about bringing more Hebrew into our classrooms, offering more parent education sessions and family programming, digging deeper into the importance of social-emotional development and play-based learning, and continuing to improve and update our facility. It is no understatement to say that having age-appropriate bathrooms in the preschool wing will be a game-changer. It will greatly reduce the amount of time we spend walking the children to -- and physically supporting them once inside -- our adult-size bathrooms; better yet, it will increase the amount of time we can spend with the children engaged in more meaningful activities.

The next few years may also bring other kinds of changes to our program. As more and more families require full-time care for their children, we may have to re-evaluate what kinds of services we are able to provide, and when and where we can provide them.

We also need to re-think the ways in which we advertise and promote our program to better account for the transient nature of our community, and that’s where we’d ask for your help. Families, and members of the synagogue community, are our single best resource when it comes to advertising, and positive word-of-mouth is what often brings prospective families in for a tour. I often hear from families who have just moved into the area and are just beginning to look for a preschool: I was at the playground (or my older child’s school) and I asked around and everyone said we should check out Agudas Achim Preschool.

Please continue to spread the word about our program, and let families know that we do have openings next year. Interested families can call or email me with questions. Thank you for all you have done and will continue to do for our preschool in the years to come.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Shabbat Around the Table -- B'har

Originally published May 19, 2017

On Shabbat, the seventh day, we rest. We refrain from work, work often being understood as the act of creating something, or changing or altering something in a fundamental way. We refrain from creating in order to give our minds and our bodies an opportunity to rest, relax, and rejuvenate.  Let's not forget that even God needed a day of rest after creating the world.

Image result for overgrown garden
In this week's parshaB'har, we learn about shmitah. We learn that even the earth needs a rest. Millennia before scientific research confirmed the importance of crop rotation, ancient Israelites were giving their fields a rest from planting and harvesting every seven years. Their fields would lie fallow for an entire year during shmitah. This is both a simple act and a profound sacrifice, especially when you think about the practical implications in an early agrarian society. 

This is a beautiful idea to teach children, and one easily done by marking off a spot in the yard or garden and saying, "This part of the earth gets a rest this year. We won't plant anything; we won't pull any weeds. It can just do it's own thing. The earth works hard for us, and it deserves a break every now and then just like we do."

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Shabbat Around the Table -- The Shabbes Queen

Related image

Originally published May 12, 2017

In this week's parsha -- Emor -- God gives Moses the laws pertaining to our most important holidays: Rosh HaShanaYom KippurSukkot, Passover, Shavuot, and SHABBAT! In my opinion, the best thing about Shabbat is that it happens every week!

God tells us not to work on Shabbat, and the Temple service is described. But what you won't find in this parsha are commands to light candles or say kiddush over wine. Those are traditions that evolved later. 

Every now and then, my family stumbles across a custom that we love so much that we then incorporate it into our own traditional Shabbat dinner. One of those is the poem by Chayim Nachman Bialik called Shabbat Ha-Malkah, or The Shabbat Queen. Bialik lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is considered a pioneer of Hebrew poetry. Not only do I think this is a beautifully descriptive poem, but I appreciate the feminine language. In my family, I recite it as the only woman at the table. I hope you like it, too.

Shabbat Ha-Malkah
The sun on the treetops no longer is seen.
Come, let us welcome Shabbat, the true Queen.
Behold her descending, the holy, the blessed,
and with her God's angles of peace and of rest.
Come now, dear Queen, with us abide.
Come now, come now, Shabbat, our Bride.
Shalom aleikhem, angels of peace.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Shabbat Around the Table -- Kedoshim

Originally published April 27, 2018
Image result for standing on one foot hillel
A story is told of the Roman soldier who wanted to play a trick on some Jews. He first went to Shammai, one of the great sages of the time. He said, "I hear you're a good teacher. Can you teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot?" 

Shammai became angry. He said it would be an impossible task; there are just too many laws to learn. Knowing this was a joke, he turned the soldier away and told him never to return.

The soldier next went to Hillel, another great sage. The Roman soldier asked the same question, "Can you teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot?"

Hillel answered: "Yes. What is hurtful to you, don't do to others. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. No go and learn."

The soldier was so taken with Hillel's answer that he went and learned, and eventually converted to Judaism. 

Hillel's answer stems from what is probably the most relevant teaching in this week's parsha: Love your neighbor as yourself. Beautifully simple, beautifully complex, it's the perfect place to start when beginning to teach children right from wrong.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Shabbat Around the Table -- Acharei Mot

The bimah and Aron HaKodesh at the historic
6th&I synagogue in Washington, DC.

This week's parsha, Acharei Mot, describes a lot of things Jews shouldn't do, such as going into the Holy of Holies, the most sacred inner room within the Temple,    . . . unless it's Yom Kippur, you're the High Priest, and you've undergone all the necessary physical and spiritual preparations. Because the Temple no longer exists, this prohibition is really just a reminder of a long-ago time and place.

The closest we have to the Holy of Holies in a modern synagogue is the Holy Ark (Aron HaKodesh), where the Torah scrolls are kept. The Ark is usually the central focal point of any sanctuary, whether it's in the front of the room or the center. It's often decorative and can be very elaborate with all sorts of thematic motifs woven into the design. Click here to read about all the symbols located within and around Agudas Achim's Ark.

The Torah scrolls are placed on a shelf inside the Ark behind both a set of doors and a curtain. It is an honor to be called up to the bimah (the best translation is probably "stage") to open the doors and/or curtains before certain prayers are said. The congregation stands when the Ark is opened and waits until the curtain is closed before sitting. Certain prayers also call for bowing in front of the open Ark. 

Finally, on Yom Kippur, the rabbi and chazzan prostrate themselves before the Ark at one powerful point in the service. This custom is just a echo of what the High Priest would have done thousands of years ago at the Temple in Jerusalem, but it connects us to our ancestors and our history nonetheless.

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