Monday, September 18, 2017

iPod Tefilah

iPod Tefilah is really pretty simple: you create a conversation between ancient prayers and modern music. The goal of that conversation is simply this: to build bridges of understanding, to bring out the timeless in the prayer and the sacred in the music. If you do it really well, then eventually participants start to understand that their music playing device is in fact an instrument of prayer, their streaming service a kind of divine emanation.

Today we had our first iPod Tefilah at The Davis Academy Middle School in approximately 15 months. What can I say? We've been busy. We brought back iPod Tefilah just in time for Rosh Hashanah and the High Holy Day season. Today we asked our students to think about the rich themes of the High Holy Days through the lens of their music playing devices.

The beauty of iPod Tefilah is that it weds concepts like Teshuvah, Tefilah, and Tzedakah with songs from Dear Evan Hanson, Coldplay, Tim McGraw, Andra Day, Avicii, and the musical, Annie. By doing so, it forces kids to confront the false dichotomy between sacred and secular, between ancient and modern, between Jewish and human. For these reasons, and the fact that the kids seem to really enjoy it and find it meaningful, iPod Tefilah will be reasserting its influence on our Davis Academy Middle School Tefilah program once again this year.

Thank you to Sara Beth Berman who led the first iPod Tefilah at The Davis Academy several years ago when she served as The Davis Academy's Nadiv Educator!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

(A)Typical Thursday Morning at The Davis Academy Middle School

This morning, The Davis Academy middle school honored two of our cherished students who are becoming Bnai Mitzvah this Shabbat. I've called this post "(A)Typical Thursday Morning at The Davis Academy Middle School" because this morning's Tefilah service was both unique and exemplary of what takes place each and every Thursday morning at our Middle School.

As a way of describing what took place this morning I'll use a series of guiding questions. I got these questions from a poem called Gratitude by Mary Oliver. In that poem, she asks herself these questions and writes her responses.

What did you notice?

The easy way that students, faculty, and special guests trickled into the gym and found their way to their seats. The feeling of familiarity among those who weekly participate in this sacred gathering. 

What did you hear?

The sound of the Torah being read by our two honorees, ancient words with modern messages. The sound of one of our honorees expressing her commitment to personal, religious, and spiritual growth as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The voice of one of our honorees explaining that a community not only rejoices, but consoles one another. The sound of a teacher speaking on behalf of his colleagues and calling attention to some of the special qualities of our celebrants. The sound of a shofar, not once, but twice, calling us to purpose.

What did you admire?

The gracious presence of our honorees. Leading in a comfortable and authentic way. Taking their place in the midst of our community. The supportive circle of friends and family, there to embrace them and witness their leadership. The story shared by a visiting alum, especially the part about how he is a catalyst for positive change in his community. 

What astonished you?

That such a gathering exists. 200 teens and pre-teens, gathering for Tefilah on a Thursday morning in Atlanta, GA in 2017. 

What would you like to see again?

Nothing. I am blessed to have seen it. And I look forward to seeing what comes next. 

What was most tender?

The hugs and kisses from friends and family. The words shared on behalf of the teachers. The yad gently walking across the words in the scroll. 

What was most wonderful?
The (A)Typical nature of it all. 

What did you think was happening?

I can't even begin to answer this question. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

L'chaim Sandy Springs!

Last night, Davis Academy 8th grader, Alon Rogow, had the honor of sharing a D'var Torah at an event celebrating the past, present, and future of the Jewish community of Sandy Springs. Speaking immediately before mayor, Rusty Paul, and Rabbi Phil Kranz, Alon's message helped set the tone for the evening. We are proud that our students so beautifully and authentically represent our school values and also proud of the myriad ways that The Davis Academy has contributed to the Jewish story of Sandy Springs during our 25 years of educating the next generation. Alon spoke last night as part of his commitment to being a part of MSLTI, The Davis Academy's Middle School Leadership Training Institute. Here's his speech, shared with parental permission. 

Good evening. My name is Alon Rogow and I am an eighth grader at The Davis Academy. I am a member of our Middle School Leadership Training Institute (MSLTI) as a Student Government representative and I will be giving a D’var Torah tonight, which is a short speech or lesson interpreting the weekly Torah portion.
This week’s parsha is called Ki Tavo. The parsha contains many important teachings and themes. The theme that I would like to focus on for my D’var Torah is that of ‘blessings and curses.’ In this parsha, we see Moses explain that the Israelites will be blessed if they follow the mitzvot but that they will be cursed if they disobey. Mitzvot teach us morality, compassion, justice and humility. These mitzvot are not just laws that we are obligated to follow, but they are meant to help guide us to live our lives in a righteous manner.  Moses gives the Israelites a choice—if they choose to follow the mitzvot not only will they have many blessings, but they will also BE a blessing. You may think the choice was easy, but some Israelites could not follow the mitzvot. Of course, as you can imagine, most of them made the right choice, which is part of why we are all gathered here today to celebrate the Jewish community of Sandy Springs.
As I mentioned, I am an 8th grader at The Davis Academy. I consider myself blessed to be able to go to such an amazing Jewish school. Among the many opportunities that me and my classmates have at Davis, we have many opportunities to be a blessing. For example, every year, as a Davis Academy middle school, we work together to raise money for various charities. We do this through bringing in tzedakah as well as through various competitions between grades, where we compete against one another to see who can bring in the most money. At the end of the competition, the money is donated to a charity of our choice. On a more personal note, I am always eager to help others, whether it’s with school work or with a personal situation, I am always willing to lend a hand. Also, I am welcoming to everyone and always like to include others and make them feel like they are a part of the group.  Recently, I participated in the Macabbi games.  I was on the soccer team and we were lucky enough to have two players join us from Israel.  They spoke little to no English.  Because of my Davis Academy education, I was able to communicate with them and welcome them to the team and to our community.  Spending time with them and getting to know them was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and one that I will never forget. 
 I know that The Davis Academy is only one of the many wonderful Jewish communities in Sandy Springs. Even as an 8th grader I have visited many synagogues for different activities and Bar Mitzvahs. I know that our entire Sandy Springs Jewish community is a blessing, which is why we are here tonight to celebrate our history and how far we’ve come. I am thankful that our school is able to be a part of such an incredible exhibit and I’m honored to be a part of the program tonight. Thank you for listening to my D’var Torah and Mazal Tov to all.