• A Message from Mrs. Gettinger

    Posted by Michael Voskoboynik on 10/15/2021

    Once upon a time when as a precocious three-year-old I was informed of my youngest sister’s impending birth, I classically quipped: “but we didn’t use up this one first!” referencing my middle sister who was just a year old at the time. My mother was so taken with my brilliance that she submitted the incident to Readers’ Digest for publication! In musing about the future directions and initiatives in education, I find myself drawn in thought to the 22nd century skills which will engage and challenge our students even as we have ‘not used up’ the 21st century skills of critical and creative thinking, communication and collaboration. The world in which current early childhood and elementary students are growing up portends to be far more than just a global classroom or artificial intelligence driven digital environment but instead qualitatively different in its socioemotional culture fifty or seventy-five years from now.

     

    Societally, we are all experiencing the ubiquitous phenomenon of public adult tantrums whether on airplanes, in road rage, restaurants and stores blamed on the whipsaw of renewed gloom from the Covid Delta variant following the burst of optimism from spring vaccinations and reopenings and exacerbated by the dark overlay of potent political and philosophical divisiveness and screaming anger permeating our society. Psychologists explain that when we anticipate something is going to be temporary, we are able to absorb a higher level of stress but prolonged stress through unrealized expectations and dashed hopes make us all more prone to aggressiveness within ourselves and towards others. As case in point, the latest Tik Tok challenge horrifically involves “slapping a teacher.” We have become far less resilient as it is simply getting harder and harder to muster patience and empathy or regulate our knee jerk reactions. With little reserve when adversity strikes, we default to crumble or crash.

     

    Significantly it is in this very milieu that our students interact and sadly mirror meltdown behaviors unable to cope with the smallest of annoyances or navigate blurred boundaries independently. Childhood anxiety is at an all-time high spawning an entire industry of stress reducing fidgets from spinners and squishies to the current craze of colorful ‘pop it’ stress reducers found across the grade levels from early childhood to middle school.

    Moreover, technology as a medium and in its message has dulled our social skills and created escape alternative realities for children in videogames where ‘killing’ the virtual enemies is synonymous with winning to say nothing of the tragic danger of cyberbullying and addictive cyclical emotions associated with the dopamine rush and targeted marketing of social media. The technology medium will surely be reimagined as we move into the 22nd century particularly as it impacts young students and emerging tweenagers. Last week’s social media outage and the Facebook whistleblower’s testimony sparked spirited reflection about the insidious effect of these platforms; the compelling need for oversight and intentionality of usage in instruction and communication perhaps the most awesome challenge we face in guiding our children’s future.

     

    Socioemotional curriculum will advance grit, growth mindset, advocacy and agency for students well into the 22nd century. In the next decades, we will be implored to actually teach patience, model resilience and most significantly of all empathy to our students through literature and written responses to multiple texts, as well as dramatic role play/Readers Theater and debate opportunities to take another’s perspective. In our basic instruction, we will be adjured to ask students what they would do or think in various scenarios whether in Judaic texts or in eliciting their active participation and engagement in current anti-Semitism and global problems. Nearly 22 centuries ago, the Talmudic Sage Rabbi Akiva identified empathy as the core value of Judaism stating” Zeh Klal Gadol BaTorah” regarding the mitzvah of viahavta liracha kamocha/treating others as we wish to be treated. Somehow, we haven’t quite ‘used up” that dictum yet!

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  • A Message from Mrs. Gettinger

    Posted by Michael Voskoboynik on 10/8/2021

    I am dedicating this weekly column to the HHAI Stars volleyball teams who under the inspiring leadership and coaching of Michael Voskoboynik have achieved near miraculous play this season in the classic David vs.Goliath paradigm outmatched in size and stature. The older team barely had the requisite size players to compete and yet with such spatial depth, smart gameplay, communication skills, and incredible teamwork boasted an impressive 8-2 record, while the younger team playing second, third and fourth graders alongside a mere few fifth and sixth peers made it to the third set of the semifinal round of the IISL championship! As many of you know, I am an avid baseball fan, a hopeless Chicago White Sox underdog fan as my family has connections to Chicago for decades. This year they too achieved stardom in winning their division, the first time since 2005, and are presently playing in the MLB playoffs. Interestingly, they have a Jewish player on the team with a fascinating Davidic like metaphorical background. Hardly as famous as Sandy Colfax who refused to pitch in the World Series on Yom Kippur, Leury Garcia hails from the Dominican Republic and was actually orphaned at his very birth when his parents died in an earthquake as the hospital was sadly built upon the Septentrional Fault line. Pitying the infant, the attending midwife swaddled him in her arms and took him to the local synagogue raising him up to the congregation like a Jewish Simba, pleading with someone to adopt him. Ironically, a kind Jewish zookeeper who specialized in lions immediately volunteered. Tragically though just three years later, exploding glass shards killed the lionkeeper when an Austrian opera troupe made its way through the zoo during its Central American circuit literally leaving Leury to live amongst the lions for the next ten years. As a bar mitzva gift, some of the zoo staff bought him a ticket to a professional baseball game where he became enamored with the game from the first pitch. Lightning struck yet again a third time for the young Jewish boy as he himself was hit by a derailed train during the game and was airlifted in a hot air balloon to the very hospital where he was born. Curiously, after being in a coma for 28 days, he awoke and was asked his name after whereupon miraculously the staff not only matched him to the name of the young orphan born during the earthquake but told him that his biological father actually survived the quake and would be delirious with joy to be reunited with his son. His father, in fact, turned out to be the local high school baseball coach and Leury’s grit and passion afforded him the opportunity to become a utility player helping the team win a national championship, where serendipitously American scouts were present and impressed with the depth and breadth of his skillset. Offering the young player a contract, he came to Texas and ultimately to the White Sox where he was officially adopted by Jerry Reinsdorf, the Jewish team owner, and where he remains the longest tenured player on the team. Giftedly versatile, a team leader and fan favorite, he plays every position besides pitcher and catcher and has contributed offensively to the team’s incredible run. The legend of Leury is an inspiring tale of resilience and tenacity, the hallmarks of King David who himself battled a lion before the epic giant Goliath. The legend of Leury is the miraculous stuff of the Jewish narrative of a tiny people who have survived millennia despite the obstacles and tragedies which have beset us time and again. In the end, it teaches the lessons of determined grit, resilience and flexibility in training for many positions and possiiblities. Congratulations to our tiny perseverant STARS, ...never stop chasing your dreams! We are richly proud of you and your tenacious spirit.

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  • A Message from Mrs. Gettinger

    Posted by Michael Voskoboynik on 9/27/2021

    We live in the throwaway society where we all too readily discard food and tableware items, school and office supplies, books, toys and tragically relationships and memories. This summer in cleaning out the kitchen storage room, we unfortunately had to discard many boxed items past their ‘expiration’ dates. Ditto with our annual protocol of stocking classrooms with emergency water and crackers and throwing away the expired lot. Sadly, these items are not accepted by food banks either even as in most cases the quality of the optimal freshness, texture and crunch and not the actual food safety of the products is the underlying issue. Post World War II as Americans began purchasing groceries from larger supermarkets rather than farms and local small corner shops, marketing codes were embedded to enable grocers to rotate stock while maintaining full shelves to give the allusion of plenty. Savvy consumers demanded a deciphering of the expiration codes and hence the use by, best by and sell by date system was adopted as a marketing tool. Interestingly, I read of a Harvard University student gaining entry to the New England Aquarium a few weeks ago with a ticket that was older than she! Rachel Carole, 26, was gifted the ‘Late Gate Ticket’ upon moving to Boston by her great aunt Catherine Cappiello, 85, who purchased it in 1983 always planning to return but somehow never making that happen as with most of our good intentions. The ticket read ‘you have arrived too late to fully enjoy our facilities, this ticket is good for admission at any time in the future’ and true to their word, the tattered ticket did not expire and was fully honored some 38 years later. An anomaly in the competitive gift card market where companies calculate a 5% guaranteed percentage of cards will be lost, misplaced or never redeemed, this oddity of actually holding onto and successfully utilizing the card after nearly four decades naturally made the national news as a ‘golden ticket ‘of sorts. As a school celebrating its own golden Jubilee year we look back on the previous 50 years of formative Jewish education in this community and look forward to the 22nd century skills we will impart to our students for the next 50 years. The educational pendulum swings back and forth but foundationally we teach reading through phonics, writing through mentor texts and drafting feedback, Humanities through Socratic seminar and conceptual inquiry, math through logic and numerical reasoning, science and technology through hands on experiential projects and simulations and Judaics through vibrant Jewish values and textual skills. As American Jews we live with an underlying tension between the old and the new, between the historic and the modern, between tradition and innovation and most significantly between timeless values and the challenge of current relevancy. After all the United States is but 250 years old while Judaism dates back over 3000 years. What do we flippantly discard or disregard as irrelevant on these shores which so warmly welcomed our immigrant ancestors? How do we preserve future eternity while simultaneously living and addressing today's challenges and issues? The High Holidays beckon and invite us to reflect upon the very traditions and family celebrations which are the hallmark of our longevity. The Shofar sounds, the poignant melodies and prayers, the apples and honey, round raisin challah and the myriad of customs and blessings symbolized in these rituals must not be allowed to ‘expire’ as we anticipate 5782 and beyond in health and tenacity. No worries, I purchased ‘fresh fish’ (gummies of course but from Jelly Belly and not the New England Aquarium:) for the students to enjoy before Rosh Hashana as we actualize the symbol of being the head and not the tail ... .שנהיה. ראש ולא לזנבSomehow leftovers from last year although not past the ‘best by’ date simply wouldn’t do in raising the next generation of strong and committed Jewish leaders!

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  • A Message from Mrs. Gettinger

    Posted by Michael Voskoboynik on 9/24/2021

    Professionally I have always sought to focus on channeling the strengths of each on my staff rather than harboring on obvious deficiencies, a rule of positivity worthy of implementation in our instructional modeling as parents and teachers with our children. While the weaknesses glare at us and frankly unnerve us, the strengths are actually more potent yet often latent, needing to be developed and nurtured to actualize their fullest potential. There are life lessons to be learned from everyone with whom we interact and significantly a key perspective I have gleaned from board president Monica Rosenfeld is her consistent imploring “tell me something good!” amidst the myriad of problems, finances and issues which abound. Beyond optimism and hope, the plea beckons us to reflect upon the significant strengths, vision and values rather than becoming mired in the daily grind of the shortfalls. Every human being is different and even those who on the surface appear similar in temperament and outlook are nonetheless unique. One of the greatest tragedies in human life is when a person feels himself or herself to be a square peg in a round hole, ill-fitted for the life one is leading and for the profession one is pursuing. While most make some sort of peace with situation, there are rare individuals who can change course in the midstream of life itself and pursue their natural abilities and true vision despite the obstacles that undoubtedly present themselves. The commitment to personalized educational plans from schedules to student supports and enrichment is a hallmark of HHAI. Identifying each student’s individual passions and triggers facilitates instruction that is tailored to their personal trajectory of both academic as well as significantly socioemotional and moral growth. As a teacher, I always ask my students on day one to share their instructional ‘love languages’ privately with mewhat makes them proud and what makes them uncomfortable in a classroom setting. Knowledge of their instructional personas empowers us to collaboratively engage in meaningful goal setting much in the same way that doing lunch duty with younger classes affords me a window into each student’s tastes(literally and figuratively) and problem solving skills truly becoming a highlight of my dayJ The import of Moshe’s departing blessings to the Jewish people in the concluding Torah portion of Vizot Habracha read on the upcoming holiday of Simchat Torah is that each of the tribes, as well as the individuals who comprise those tribes, should be true unto themselves. They should accept and follow their mission both personal and national that G-d set out for them through their genetic traits and personal gifted talents. In doing so, Moshe fulfills his final and perhaps greatest act of love for his people by allowing for the diversity and creativity of all to function and build a greater communal whole; the tribes serving as the paradigmatic model of synergy in Judaism. Conformity stifles all creativity and absent creativity there never can be real progress in human affairs whether physical or spiritual. Wishing all a chag sameach time well spent in good health and happiness with families and community aka your tribe!

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  • A Message from Mrs. Gettinger

    Posted by Michael Voskoboynik on 9/17/2021

    We are all familiar with the idiom ’less is more’ and its application in art and design. Yet in our frenzied over packed daily lives, we really need ‘to stop’ lists replacing our evergrowing ‘to do’ lists. In both parenting and educational instruction, we readily create incentives for good behavior or achievements without truly getting rid of the obstacles to these desired outcomes. Intuitively, which is of us wouldn’t prefer addition to subtraction math problems particularly if done mentally rather than with pencil and paper? We seem somehow to be hopelessly addicted to addition! In the behavioral science journal Nature, University of Virginia professor Klotz explores the untapped potential of ‘less,’ unpacking the reason that adding has become our default mode in a world that has conditioned and rewarded this mental shortcut. Biologically, our animal drive to acquire food and resources as well as demonstrate competencies by visibly shaping our surroundings pulls us toward the elusive ‘more’ while globally human civilization actually defines its success by the addition of technologies, education and culture. Klotz suggests a paradigm shift moving away from the false dichotomy of adding OR subtracting to a complementary mindset employing both perspectives. He cites for example ‘pocket parks’ in urban congestion as a green oasis built amidst concrete jungles by subtracting a single often derelict structure. Organizationally, Klotz suggests making change to our daily routines by trying new experiences on our schedules while simultaneously weeding out what has become useless appendixes of our time and resources actualizing Chinese philosopher Tzu’s pithy quip:’ to gain knowledge add things every day; to gain wisdom subtract something every day!” The upcoming Sukkot holiday more than any other underscores the universal lessons of less in our lives; we leave behind our warm secure homes to dwell temporarily in natural huts for a week’s period recreating our desert sojourn in the Exodus from Egypt. We enjoy family, guests (wait we don’t actually invite the bees!) and nature reflecting upon true values and life priorities. Each of the three pilgrimage festivals Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot is predicated upon a sensitivity and outreach to those less fortunate and in need with their respective Torah readings messaging the mitzvah to empathize with the poor, widow, orphan and, convert. This motif is, however, highlighted most especially over Sukkot with the sukkot representing the actual Biblical tented booths or the ananei hakavod/ the spiritual clouds of Glory which enveloped the Jewish nation for their forty years in the Sinai desert. Over the summer I read and thoroughly enjoyed Deirdre Mask’s The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth and Power recommended to me by Monica Rosenfeld as a recent selection for her senior book club. An avid history buff with a penchant for urban planning, I was fascinated by the analysis on ancient Roman street design and the section detailing the origin of street names which was my first career aspiration! Significantly, the book poignantly depicts homelessness, the lack of said street address, correlating the phenomenon with loneliness and an adrift sense of identity in finding one’s place in society. As we are all but sojourners on the path of life, it is our moral imperative to ponder the lessons of subtraction in our lives…perhaps I will add that to my very long holiday ‘to do’ list!

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  • A Message from Mrs. Gettinger

    Posted by Michael Voskoboynik on 9/3/2021

    Time and space are relative phenomena especially when viewed through the lens of children. Paradoxically, tomorrow seems like an eternity to a first grader for whom waiting for lunch at 11:00am is painfully long to endure and yet simultaneously outer space feels very real and tangible to their imaginative curious minds as many have travelled to exotic locations across the globe. Recently, one of the precocious younger students insightfully commented about my living next door to the school that that is both good and bad and when queried he explained that I could wake up a minute before the school day starts (even suggesting Mr.Simon could build me a bed so I might sleep in school) but that really would not be so good as I would never ever have a break from school! Out of the mouth of babes… In a July article in The Atlantic, columnist Jerry Useem wrote of the unappreciated benefits of a daily commute analyzed through the pandemic working from home scenario which millions enjoyed or endured depending upon their personal situation for months on end. Prepandemic, many complained about their commutes- traffic jams, gas bills, potholes, crowded subways and the general malaise of tedious time consuming holes in their day. Now “many people liberated from the commute have experienced a void they can’t quite name. Theaters of life collapse into one. There are no beginnings and no endings. The hero’s journey never happens. The threshold goes uncrossed. The sack of Troy blurs with Tommy’s math homework.” Historically, the amount of time people have been willing to spend getting to and from work remains remarkably consistent, about a half hour each way. Ancient cities like Rome were never more than three miles in diameter, allowing the outermost citizens to stay within walking or horseback commute time. The advent of cars and modern transport stretched the distance people could travel but the time remains remarkably constant with the average one way commute in the United States set at 27 minutes. In a 2014 study, researchers asked people for their ‘ideal’ commute time and reported it as an average of 16 minutes and surprisingly not zero because of a sincere need to buffer and decompress with time to plan, zone out or simply listen to audiobooks. The “boundary theory” facilitates bringing our authentic selves to our jobs and on return to our families in crossing the role between our work personas and our home psyches; the commute is an efficient way to affect the physical and psychological shift from one role to another. Role clarifying prospection in deactivating in the emotions and thoughts of home versus job and vice versa yields greater satisfaction and productivity in both arenas. This boundary theory applies equally to students which is why a 15 minute carpool or bus ride actually benefits them as role crossover and decompression time. Significantly, teacher / student relationships are additionally enhanced with boundaries as the former grapple with the sweet spot between availability and accountability, with being supportive and empathetic while simultaneously pushing academic achievement rigor, independence, agency, advocacy and resilience with students, deftly moving the fulcrum of instruction and personal growth from teacher to student. Students need personal space and time to process not only content instruction but the subliminal modeling of adult patience, perseverance and problem solving to overcome their instinctive dependence on teacher guidance and reassurance as well as their classic “I don’t get it. I don’t know what to do “which stymies their growth mindset. The holiday of Rosh Hashana, commemorating the creation of the world with its pinnacle anniversary of the creation of man beckons us to explore boundaries both in our interpersonal as well as in our relationships with G-d. The natural world order symbolizes clear demarcations between the time and space of light and dark with the Biblical refrain of ’vayihee erev vayihe boker/and it was evening and it was morning’ for each day of creation. Ironically, I live next door to school as well as to the synagogue and as a couple we often spend more time in one of those places than in our own home-location, location and location! My best wishes for Shana Tova, a healthy successful New Year 5782.

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  • A Message from Mrs. Gettinger

    Posted by Michael Voskoboynik on 8/20/2021

    I have always been intrigued by quiet introverted students who present themselves as such as early as toddlerhood. Perhaps I identify readily this demographic which is estimated to be at 40% of students because I personally prefer quiet alone thinking time to making small talk at social gatherings. Every summer I enjoy listening to keynote sessions of the International Society for Technology Educators conference and have gleaned some fascinating instructional quips and messages from the rich diversity of presentation topics and speakers. This summer was no exception. Firstly, I beamed with pride watching our young 4 th/5th graders present on ‘Using Coding to Create Interactive Projects in Virtual and Mixed Realities’ (albeit virtually once again) and secondly because I was privileged to hear author Susan Cain speak on her book Quiet The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. addressing the role of introverted students in the classroom and more significantly their untapped creativity and leadership potential. Cain riveted my attention describing her career move from Type A corporate lawyer pushed to adapt to an extrovert ideal into becoming a writer impassioned with shoring up the confidence of introverts in the classroom and beyond in her self-dubbed ‘quiet revolution.’ Amongst the bold aphorisms of her “Quiet Manifesto” she writes that solitude is a catalyst for innovation, that quiet leadership is not an oxymoron, that there is a word for people who are in their heads too much namely ‘thinkers’ and that the next generation of quiet kids can and must be raised to know their own strengths. In a December 2020 article in the Journal of Learning Sciences, Czech researchers explored the phenomena of quiet students in the classroom from the instructor and peer perspectives as well as in understanding how these students truly learn and master content and critical skills. Not surprisingly, they found that while some of the reticent students were low achievers embarrassed to contribute and who likewise teachers danced around calling upon, others were truly high ability in nature yet uneasy about speaking or volunteering in front of others. Importantly, they documented that while teachers often called upon these introverted high ability students asking challenging questions and drawing out longer and more elaborate answers, that in fact, most of their actual learning took place outside of the classroom in independent study and reading which compensated for their lack of participation in class exploratory discussions. Interestingly, when these students spoke, their peers listened as their silence wielded power; they were even more popular amongst their peers for not being “teacher’s pet’ or appearing overeager and arrogant. Through participation in difficult tasks, this type of introvert builds and consolidates their identity as exceptionally capable in the eyes of the whole class with their classmates admiring their thoughtful and creative responses and understated leadership. In this month of Elul preparatory to the Jewish High Holidays, we customarily sound the shofar to awaken spiritual repentance and reflection. The Shofar simultaneously arouses an alarming startled snap to reality along with poignant messaging of Jewish History and sacrifice with the ram’s horns, reminiscent of the Akeida/Binding of Isaac, serving as the thunderous backdrop to the Sinai experience and heralding of the glorious Messianic future. Its blast depicts the coronation of royalty as we proclaim G-d as our father and our king /Aveinu Malkeinu on Rosh Hashana as well as the trumpeting of freedom and social restoration in the Yovel/ Jubilee year such as we celebrate for our beloved school this year. But in that awesome cacophony, we must hear and reflect upon the still small voice of silence which encapsulates our spiritual identity…” kol dimmama daka.

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  • A Message from Mrs. Gettinger

    Posted by Michael Voskoboynik on 8/13/2021

    I had a most humbling experience this summer which truly gave me pause for empathetic reflection. Summer is a time for much needed respite and rejuvenation for teachers particularly after an intense school year such as last year. Yet teachers are continuously learning and honing skills in preparation for the upcoming school year and this summer was certainly no exception with ours attending virtual workshops and professional development trainings in deeper math instruction, sensory strategies for student success in the classroom, project based learning integration in the Jewish Day School through the Idea School ‘Summer Sandbox’ as well as The Responsive Classroom socioemotional curriculum. Personally I was invited to participate in an intensive 20-hour course on multiage character development in the Jewish community collaborating schools with synagogues and agencies through the Jewish Moral Education Forum. And it was during this advanced seminar that I found myself feeling inadequate and intellectually inferior to my colleagues as the cohort of 30 were truly amongst the elite level of nationally acclaimed Jewish professionals with doctorate degrees from Ivy League schools and even a Jeopardy contestant! Feeling overwhelmed and completely out of my comfort zone provoked me to empathetically consider what it is like for some students who endure hours of angst in an instructional setting in subject or grade level without sufficient scaffolding.

     

    Importantly, the seminar was heavy on philosophy while I am of a more pragmatic bent professionally. The session entitled ’Is the Self the Center of Moral Life?” especially resonated with me as our students grow and grapple with a world which is increasingly self-centered often dubbed the “Selfie” generation. David Brooks, noted New York Times and Atlantic Journal columnist, addressed the issue of the new narcissism in our society expounding on research studies which point to an increased self-confidence and absorption amongst the younger demographic with 51% of 25 year olds listing being famous as a life goal, twice as many as listed being spiritual, as well as contrasting high school seniors whose responses when asked:’ Do you consider yourself a Very Important Person?’ went from 12% in 1950 to 80% in 2010! Technology /social media contribute to this ‘celebrity culture’ shift as do pop music lyrics which have gone from the 1980’s togetherness theme to all about me in current artists.

     

    In her book Unselfie, Dr. Michelle Borba advocates for teaching our children ‘emotional literacy’ developing the art of reading people in touting explicit instruction of kindness and empathy to teach them when others are hurting or anxious. Children often do not see beyond their own toxic self centered behavior especially tween and teenagers obsessed with ‘curating their own brand.’ Practicing empathy begins at toddlerhood and iterates mastery of strong emotions in learning the reality of not always get what we want as the world does not revolve around any one of us individually. To the contrary, Olam chesed yibanah/ the world is predicated upon the extension of lovingkindness to others.

     

    From the sublime to the ridiculous on the topic of weighty head matters… Newly elected Israeli Prime Minster Naftali Bennet, a religious Zionist, the first such leader to publicly wear a kippa was recently queried as to how he manages to keep it on given his baldheadedness. He humbly admitted that he once stuck a wad of chewing gum to his head before a political forum! His adhesive of choice, however, is a product invented and sold for the last 8 years by Chaim Levin, a 65-year-old Israeli bus driver who noted the need for such while watching fellow congregants prostrate on Yom Kippur with kippot falling to the floor. ‘Kipa Keeper’ made from reusable hypoallergenic double sided medical tape is sold in packs of 40 for about $12.50 with Bennet’s endorsement obviously boosting worldwide sales for the Israeli entrepreneur. As a school, we ought to buy some in our endeavor to keep the kippot on the students’ heads but more significantly as we reflect upon its symbolism of prioritizing character and middot/Jewish values instruction as a “Covid Keeper’ across grade levels.

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  • A Message from Mrs. Gettinger

    Posted by Michael Voskoboynik on 4/16/2021

    Spring has sprung and there is a hopeful air of moving forward and returning to an adapted normalcy with the widespread availability of the vaccine. We are excited to get out, travel and simply see others and spend time with them albeit socially distanced. With all the emphasis on socioemotional learning and requisite support during this Covid year of continuous quarantines and remote work, school and communal activities, socialization feels a bit contrived and awkward even as we crave routine human interaction. Which is why I was especially intrigued by British behavioral psychologist Robin Dunbar’s latest book entitled Friends: Understanding the Power of our Most Important Relationships wherein he dissects scientific research into human groups using anthropology and mathematics of relationships to determine the exact number of friends we need to be successful without being emotionally spent.

     

    He theorizes that 150 friends of the sort you would meet at weddings and reunions and reflect that you must keep up with more than you do, is the historical number of coworkers, military units, or acquaintances where everyone knows each other’s names and skills and are willing to help each other as needed. The author further breaks down human grouping to advise 50 ‘good’ friends whom you might invite to birthday party, 12 -15 ‘supportive’ friends who would be distraught as you struggled with adversity and 5 ‘intimate’ friends whom he defines as being willing to donate a kidney to you all while advocating for 10 book club participants to encourage diverse and lively debate and 4- 6 dinner guests to cover a broad range of topics and yet promote truly meaningful conversation. Ironically, he found that a majority of people actually subscribe to these specific numbers of friend groups; trying to maintain too many social circles results in burnout since we are stretched too thin to engage and meaningfully connect and have limited emotional capital to invest on others outside of our family units.

     

    Significantly, Dunbar’s research focused on adults and did not specifically address children and teenagers and their social needs or the magical sweet spot for their feeling confident and comfortable in peer groupings. Is a BFF really necessary for normal socioemotional development and how much does the introverted vs. extroverted personality factor into a child’s success with friends? While experientially I have found parents tend to value larger social pools and opportunities for their children and often cite this is a valid concern with a smaller school setting, in fact class sizes of 8-13 are considered ideal for socioemotional growth and stability fostering a safe social environment for discussion and class culture, independent of the obvious opportunity for daily one on one interactions with teachers and personalization of individual academic trajectories. Self-confidence and advocacy skills are bolstered in a smaller environment and the issues of overwhelming social circles and lunch/hall cliques exacerbated by social media are genuine relationship landmines to traverse and guide our children through. Our graduates have consistently shared as alumni that they credit their small close knit HHAI accepting yet diverse classes as the place where they honed their confidence to actively participate, engage and advocate for themselves and their opinions as they seamlessly went on to much larger peer environments. In a society obsessed with “influencers’ insidiously affecting marketing and culture, our children’s tenacious independence and social mettle is as critical as their academic prowess.

     

    Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, architect of the rebuilding of the Jewish community of Israel post Second Temple destruction, had five famous students whom he asked to be ‘character Influencers ‘by promoting their paradigmatic attribute. Importantly Rabbi Yehoshua, advocated for chaver tov/a good friend and colleague as the key to a successful and meaningful life- practicing what he preached by loyally deferring to the Sanhedrin leader with whom he disagreed in matters of Jewish law and sensitively relating to the poverty of many of his peers himself eking out a meager living as a blacksmith despite his stature as a Rabbinic leader. This unique friendship bond is repetitively chorused by our alumni…as they remain close and connected with each other across the years and across the globe as chaverim tovim!

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  • A Message from Mrs. Gettinger

    Posted by Michael Voskoboynik on 4/9/2021

    People with way too much time and money on their hands have bid $2.5 million to buy Twitter founder, Jack Dorsey’s initial message on the platform. In the latest digital craze known as ‘non-fungible tokens’ which are cryptographic assets with unique identification codes, the auction winner receives a digital certificate allowing them to virtually lay claim to the 2006 tweet in which Dorsey wrote “just setting up my twttr.” Ironically, even after Dorsey’s tweet is purchased, it will stay where it is on Twitter despite the ubiquitous ‘disappearing message’ function used in What’s App and other social media. We are a culture obsessed with newer zanier shinier toys, futilely wasting resources on artificiality as evidenced by the enormously popular celebrity trend during the pandemic of collecting tweets, videos and digital art with billion dollar transactions. Altogether, we worship social media and overinflate the value of banal words allowing this oft pompous and contrived communication reality to permeate every aspect of our lives.

     

    Recently I discussed the concept of silence during tefilla/prayers with the 6th and 7th grades who enjoy the quietude during their brief session daily as an opportunity for reflection and meditation. They studied the origin of the silent Amidah/ the shmone esriei from the Biblical heroine Chana, mother of Samuel whose poignant prayer for a child was misunderstood by the high priest Eli for its soulful emoting. Personal request of G-d as well as acknowledgment and gratitude for the blessings in their lives is meant to be private and thoughtful. The students expressed the importance of rest and reset in taking a mental break from the noise and harried nature of their day and more significantly a time for intrapersonal introspection and growth without technology. Additionally, they mused that silence can be awkward in social interactions as in the pregnant pause and even distracting allowing their minds to wander freely rather than focus on the task at hand. I shared that a trendy vacation a few years ago had been to a California monastery where the austere furnishings, natural peaceful surroundings and more importantly a 12 hour mandated silence afforded a welcome respite from the hectic and frenzied pace of life in allowing people to anchor themselves and their values.

     

    We begin reading Ethics of the Fathers/Pirkei Avot on the long Shabbat afternoons after Pesach. The first chapter aptly quotes Rabbi Shimon, son the leader Rabban Gamaliel commenting that all his life he grew up amongst scholars and found that the best thing for the human condition is silence/”lo matzatzti tov laguf mishitika.” At the time of great noise in the Jewish political world post Temple destruction he repeated the significant aphorism that silence is golden, reflecting that the attribute he gleaned from spending time amidst truly wise leaders was, in fact, the discipline of quiet, of not getting the last word in nor arguing vociferously with his colleagues and peers. Measured speech tamps down anxiety and wards off anger and frustration while tweets by nature are impulsive streams of consciousness often unedited and unfiltered, frequently ‘sound bites’ of ugliness and hurt. Communicating this message to our students addicted to the dopamine rush of likes to their social media pictures and posts is a formidable challenge of our modern parenting and instruction.

     

    Would you donate $250 to the school in non-fungible tokens for the bidding rights to my initial column in 2008?! It is a genuine digital collector’s item because I had never used a computer before writing it!

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