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Educational Thoughts, Inspiration and Tips!

Midrash on a Sacred Encounter

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—for the good Rabbi and my friends at Maimonides School


Midrash on a Sacred Encounter


When the little ones gathered at my feet

they couldn’t stop laughing every time

I spoke a poem, as if they were wild birds

and I scattered seed for their singing and singing,

singing back to my songs and stories, and they

fed me questions as old as psalms: How long

does it take to write a poem… what’s the longest

poem… who taught you poems… what’s

the oldest poem… what’s oldest

inside a poem…what is a poem

and what is not?


Then they laughed and clapped

and I bowed and felt blessed

and we went out into sunlight

and all went forth to heal the world.


                          Kim Stafford

                          Oregon Poet Laureate

                          November 2018

Learn. Then review, and repeat




Did you hear about the child who became a Torah scholar in only five minutes? Yes,  he was able to accomplish this in only five minutes! He did so during the five minutes he waited in the pickup line after school. Or, was it during the five minutes spent in the clinic lobby before his doctor’s appointment? Or, was it during the final five minutes his parents spent packing the family car for their weekend getaway? Of course nobody -- not even the most-learned rabbis of history -- claims to become a giant of Torah learning in only five minutes. Rather, our friend the student was using his free five minutes to review his daily Torah study. Bravo!

Has your child ever returned from school frustrated and said, “We already knew everything we went over in class today.” ” Perhaps she found the day’s lessons boring. But my hope is that Instead of experiencing boredom, this student and her classmates will experience ever-greater confidence, as reviewing knowledge one already has strengthens that knowledge, ultimately strengthening the student.

How does review lead to greater knowledge? When one already has a good foundation in the material, knew tidbits rise to the surface, broadening the knowledge base.



Indeed, reviewing is actually harder than learning something for the first time. True understanding and information recall result from review!



So, how much review is necessary?



After the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people now needed to learn! How many times were they taught each idea? The Talmud explains the specifics of what’s called the quadruple review plan: for every item Moshe taught, his students -- the Jewish people -- had to review each lesson four times until it was understood and could be properly put into practice. (For greater detail, please reference Eruvin 54b for your own learning -- and reviewing! -- opportunity.)



A good first step is learning from our ancestors. A great second step -- and third and fourth and... -- is the following: Learn, review, review, and review again.



Happy learning!


Power Of Words


There is an expression, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Words have no power, really. Words don’t physically harm anyone. So, in other words (pun intended), words have no value.


Nu? Is this correct?


The Midrash (Vayikrah Rabbah, 33:1) tells of how Rabbi Gamliel once sent his servant to buy both the best and worst piece of meat. For each one, he bought tongue. When asked to clarify, he said, tongue is the best and worst. If it is a good one, there is nothing better; if it is a hurtful one, then there is nothing worse!”


 The Talmud (Arachin, 15:B) teaches that talking about a third party who isn’t present at the time of the conversation harms three people: he who slanders, he who accepts it, and he about whom it is said.


Our speech indeed has power! If speaking ill of another can have a negative affect, think how positive beneficial words are to others!


Very fun fact: The meaning of the original Aramaic sentence --  אברא כדברא -- ‘Abracadabra!’ which magicians have made part of English-language lexicon --  means, I will create with my speech!


At Maimonides, we want to impress upon our students the importance of thinking and speaking positively, particularly about others. We are introducing a new piece to our weekly Maimonides Friday assemblies. Twice a month, we’ll include content that supports the paramount practice of positive thinking and speaking about others, and it furthers the school’s extant middot/ethics program. 

It’s About So Much More Than Tests


Why is it that full-time Jewish day schools are experiencing rising enrollments? Why, indeed, has this been the case for the last 30 years, even as tuition costs go up, too? (Marvin Schlick, A Census of Jewish Day Schools in the United States, 2013-2014, Avi Chai Foundation)

We believe we have the answer.

In today's world of DDI -- data-driven instruction -- and standardized testing, secular society seems to be sending the message that it's more about academic goals than a person’s character.

As a Jewish day school, we know the opposite is true; education is about the students’ character and knowledge.

"The most important aspect of chinuch/education is not expressed in acquiring a vast amount of knowledge (good knowledge and so forth). Rather, the main essence of chinuch is in relation to [the students'] middot/character." (Hisvaaduyos 5742, vol. 3, p 1197)

This month at Maimonides we will be celebrating the completion of our Nachas Tree, which has grown by hundreds of pieces of fruit. Each piece represents an individual and is on the Nachas Tree in recognition of outstanding behavior and character.

At MJDS, in addition to Judaics and General Studies, social-emotional well-being, and Jewish heritage, we focus on our students’ character, the very people they are and are working hard to become. It’s wonderful that full-time Jewish day schools -- like ours -- are experiencing a steady increase in enrollment. May this trend continue.       

Provide Yourself With A Guide



Provide Yourself With A Guide


By Rabbi Shneur Wilhelm, Principal


In 2008 I was invited to join Ach Sheli, a volunteer group that pairs college-age students with elementary school students. Through sharing stories, learning, and spending time together, its goal is to facilitate creating a bond between the two groups. To create a strong, productive connection between a young adult and a young child, between mentor and mentee. 


I will never forget one particular story that a young student shared: He disclosed that he had been going through some challenges both at home and at school, and he simply didn't know how to handle them. While at this gathering, he decided to ask his mentor for some advice. The younger student talked non-stop, for about 10 minutes. Even before his mentor could consider his response, the child said, “Actually, I recognize now that I am not even looking for a response! I just needed to share. I already feel better!”


This idea of looking to others for support, for guidance is stressed in “Ethics of The Fathers” (1:16). Rabban Gamliel said: “Provide yourself with a guide and free yourself of doubt.”


It is important for everyone to choose a mashpia, or mentor, someone with whom one feels comfortable and safe to share whatever is happening in one’s life, whether it’s to discuss huge life themes or a small problem that has just arisen.  


As my Ach Sheli story illustrates, in addition to actual communication, the mere fact one knows there is someone with whom to share anything, and to do so without worry, results in a sense of calm and serenity in our turbulent world, if not simply in one’s particularly turbulent day.


When our children see how we, their parents, their mentors, also are comfortable discussing issues with a mentor of our own, we model very healthy behavior. We influence them to look for role models and people with whom they can confide. For the mere act of sharing heavy burdens with another strengthens our own resolve and ability to work through -- instead of allow to build up -- life’s stresses and stressors.

Truth Is The Beginning, The Middle, And The End

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 Truth Is The Beginning, The Middle, And The End


What traits do you want to inspire and share with your child?

Truth/אמת has always been high on my list. I always planned to share this with my own children and, today, with yours. To do so faithfully, I knew I needed to clarify in my own mind what I was looking for. That led me to the questions,What is truth? How can I -- and my children, and others -- get there?


At a recent staff meeting we discussed our core values (אמת-truth, חסד-kindness, כבוד-respect and משמעת עצמית-self-discipline) and how to best  share these with our students and inspire them to aspire to them. For the latter three core values, we immediately came up with the words to use and ideas to share to attain our goal as educators. Truth, however, posed a bigger challenge; it was something else entirely. We decided we needed more time to give it more thought, and we scheduled another meeting a  few weeks out.


So what is אמת-truth? The answer is hidden in the magic of the Hebrew letters that compose the word אמת. In the Alef-Bet, the א is the first letter, מ the middle, and ת the last. Truth literally is the beginning, the middle, and the end. It is the end-all, be-all; it is something that lasts and endures forever.


The Talmud (Parah, 8:9) teaches that a river that dries up even once in a seven-year period is called “false waters.”In other words, truth -- unlike a river that can cease to exist -- is forever. Truth is always. Truth is anywhere. Rain may cause a river to stop flowing, but truth is eternal.


Our staff regrouped a few weeks later to share our accumulated thoughts on how to teach truth to our students. We kept in mind the guiding principle above about truth and boiled down our message to our students to the following three foundational concepts. You live and express your enduring truth through honesty in speech and action; keeping your word; and being an example.


Here at MJDS, our kids work hard to internalize all of our core values, truth among them. We teach them every day, and we are seeing great progress.


Empowering - A Heavenly Example

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 Empowering - A Heavenly Example

When Moses was on Mount Sinai, he joined a class Rabbi Akiva (c. 50 CE to 135 CE) was teaching, and yet Moses couldn't understand the subject matter.

Suddenly, a student raised his hand and asked about the topic, “Rebbe, how do you known this novel idea?” to which Rabbi Akiva responded, “This was taught to Moses on Mount Sinai.” (Menachot, 23:B)

By this time, Moses already had received  the Torah on Mount Sinai, and now he is listening to a class he doesn't understand, but that its teacher says Moses himself taught?

Along with the written Torah and 613 commandments, Moses received the 13 rules of understanding the Torah. Using these guidelines given at Mount Sinai we can innovate and share original insights into our sacred text. When Rabbi Akiva mentioned that the current law Moses couldn't understand was received by Moses himself, the rabbi was referring to the guidelines which empower us always to continue to investigate and learn, to work through and beyond confusion until there is understanding.

Moses and all Jews are thus empowered: We have the foundation and basics we need to innovate on our own!

This is the secret to education itself, as well as to educating and empowering the youth. We, as parents and instructors, give our students the skills to keep on investigating and learning. We need not be the so-called sage on the stage, but, rather, the guide at their side, encouraging and allowing them to make their own decisions and choices, as well as to seek the knowledge they need to make the most informed decisions and choices possible.

Where Is The Fire? By Rabbi Shneur Wilhelm


Jacob had concluded his apprenticeship by the leading blacksmith in Amsterdam and moved to a new city where he announced the grand opening of his blacksmith the following Monday.

As hundreds of people gathered to watch as he begins his first product, Jacob started working. Then it happened. Nothing worked! Try as he might, he couldn't get anything to form!

Humiliated, he returns to his teacher and shares everything. Announcing the grand opening, gathering of people and nothing working. After much thought his teacher slowly raised his head and asked, "Jacob, did you light the fire under the table?"

Over three years Jacob had spent learning the craft perfectly. Yet the heart of the task had been ignored.

As parents, are we demanding or inspiring our children? As educators, are we teaching academics or educating the next generation? We must share the fire: the meaning and warmth of life. The meaning and warmth of our expectations and teachings.

At Maimonides, we place great emphasis on giving students a meaningful and warm experience.

Of Shepherds and Teachers

While taking his sheep out to pasture, young David recognized how the strong sheep would run ahead of the flock and eat the grass, leaving nothing over for the young and elderly animals. What could be done? David created three different pens for the sheep, releasing the lambs and older sheep first to eat, followed by the stronger ones. When G-d saw the attention, love, and care that David showed to each individual sheep, He said, "You will be the King, because you are someone who will consider the specific and unique needs of all your people."

As parents and educators, we recognize the uniqueness of each individual. Everyone has something to share, and a way to inspire and change the world. Each child is priceless!

This is the monumental task of an educator, and one we place great emphasis on here at Maimonides - giving each child a personal, meaningful, and relevant education!

Does Your Child Stand On His Head


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Our Precious Torah Scrolls

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Educating the precious Jewish child.

By Rabbi Shneur Wilhelm, Principal, Maimonides Jewish Day School

What does this mean? Are these only poetic words?

It was the holy day of Simchat Torah. A day known for dancing and celebrating the completion of the Torah. Jews around the world gather to dance round and round holding the precious Torah scrolls.

In one synagogue in Vilna, survivors and soldiers of World War Two had gathered. Their past was full of pain and suffering but their hearts were full of hope and dreams for the future.

Craving some comfort they ran up to the Ark and opened it; only to find it empty of all Torah Scrolls.

Their hopes and dreams faded. Their comfort was gone. Where was their future if they didn't have any precious Torah scrolls?

Suddenly they noticed young Avraham in the crowd. 

In him they saw their future. 

In him they saw their hopes and dreams come true.

One soldier picked up the young child and began to dance and dance.

The others quickly followed suit as they danced round and round holding their precious "Torah". 

Our children are our "Torah"! They are our life and future of our people. To educate them is to educate our destiny and keep our nation living on.

What a responsibility.

What a privilege.

What an honor.

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