A Multigenerational Partnership

By Lynda Bussgang

Multigenerational Program Coordinator for the partnership between The Rashi School and Hebrew Senior Life’s NewBridge on the Charles

“A test of a people is how it behaves toward the old…. The affection and care for the old, the incurable, the helpless are the true gold mines of a culture.”

This quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel was included by Rashi student Danny Shleifer in his eighth-grade graduation speech last spring. Danny and his classmates took part in a new program that brings together Rashi students and the senior residents of NewBridge on the Charles, the Hebrew SeniorLife community with which The Rashi School shares a campus. As the program’s coordinator, I have seen how the program has touched young and old alike and I have witnessed Heschel’s words come to life. I would like to share some stories.

While visiting his great-grandmother at NewBridge, fourth grader Jacob F. became friends with another resident, David Goldberg. At least once a week after school Jacob and his mother, Rebecca, walked across the street to visit Mr. Goldberg. “He became Jacob’s real-life textbook,” Rebecca said. “Jacob would read something about World War II, and Mr. Goldberg would say, ‘Let me tell you how it really was’.”

Over several months, they shared conversation, games and many hugs. In the spring, Mr. Goldberg died at the age of 98. As Rebecca cried with me and sought comfort for her grieving child, she celebrated the relationship and how it had made Jacob a better person.

Rebecca has since joined the Rashi/NewBridge Multigenerational Committee that oversees the partnership. Jacob still visits Mrs. Goldberg and sees her when he comes to NewBridge for “Get Fit Stay Fit” – a shared fitness program for Rashi fifth and sixth graders and NewBridge residents. And when Jacob sleeps outdoors, he looks for Mr. Goldberg among the stars.

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Roz Holt, a NewBridge resident, has been a devoted reading tutor at Rashi. Last year Roz had a wonderful experience working with Kayla, a Rashi fifth grader. She recalled that when she first met Kayla: “I didn’t know what I was supposed to do and what I was supposed to say to her. We were working on reading skills, comprehension and speed reading, and I just kept telling her how well she was doing and how good it made me feel to be with her.”

Roz felt that the breakthrough came when she told Kayla that her son had had a learning disability that held him back, but he worked hard and eventually achieved great success as the president of their family business. Over time, trust grew between the two. They felt comfortable enough together that Roz could correct Kayla’s pronunciation and help her become a better reader. But more than words brought them together. I could see that every time they parted, it was with a hug.

This year, Roz comes weekly to Rashi to support the learning needs of students in the Lower School.

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Finally, there’s my daughter’s story. Jackie, who graduated from Rashi in 2011, has had many wonderful opportunities to be with seniors. She regularly visits her grandparents, who are residents in the independent living community at NewBridge. She participated in the Rashi Middle School program that connects students with residents who struggle with Alzheimer’s and dementia. She helped to support my father throughout his battle with ALS, which robbed him of the ability to speak and walk, and which, last December, took his life. These experiences all transformed my once reticent girl.

One Sunday afternoon last spring, my children and several other Rashi families volunteered to help out at a community building event at NewBridge. To my surprise, Jackie approached an elderly man who was sitting in a wheelchair. He was barely able to speak, but she sat down with him and chatted for more than 20 minutes. When she was finished, I asked her what they talked about all that time. “I don’t know, Mom,” she replied. “I couldn’t really understand him. But I just talked about myself and asked him questions. I think he liked that.” He did. When I spoke with him later that day and he learned that Jackie was my daughter, he told me that she had made his day.

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Danny Shleifer helped me figure out how to describe the magic I see each day between the Rashi kids and the NewBridge seniors. Yes, Heschel captures some of it. But Danny’s own words from his graduation speech tell it all: “What brought us together, and gave us so much joy this year, was our neighbors.”

Reflections: MLK Weekend

By Dr. Matt King, Head of School

While attending the North American Jewish Day School Conference in Atlanta over MLK weekend I had a powerful experience that I want to share with you. When I think of MLK my first thought is his urging us to judge people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. While I would like to think that I have learned to do just that, what happened last Monday evening gave me a lesson I will not forget.

While returning to our hotel after a late dinner with my wife and our son Dan who lives in Atlanta, Dan drove over several unusually large raised reflectors on the side of a highway. As soon as I felt the impact I sensed we had a problem and sure enough we very soon heard that stomach-churning sound of a tire going flat. After several nerve-racking minutes on a very dark road in the middle of nowhere the sight of a gas station brought some relief. Limping into the station, which was deserted and seemed closed, I saw an “open” sign which raised my spirits. I entered and saw a young black man in a secured, caged office area that broadcast “this is not a safe neighborhood.”

“We have a flat. Can you help us?” I asked. The young man hesitated for a moment, but then said in what was clearly an African accent, that yes he could but he needed a minute. I watched him carefully leave the secure office, lock the door, and come outside. After seeing what needed to be done he said, “Wait a minute,” and went inside to get a jack.

The young man quickly got the tire changed, pointed out that Dan’s spare was flat, and sent us to get air. Dan and I then returned to the office to express our appreciation. This is where it got interesting. When Dan offered him twenty dollars for helping us he reflexively said, “No, I do not want your money.” His response puzzled us and I then said, “But we really appreciate your helping us and we want to give you something.” He then said very firmly while pointing to me, “When I saw you, I saw my father and I was thinking that I would hope if he were in a jam like this someone would help him. I cannot take your money.” Dan and I thanked him and quietly got in the car and left.

Dan and I were both stunned by this young man’s response to us, by his generosity, by his capacity to empathize, by his moral code. Thinking back to the moment our eyes first met his, we acknowledged that being at that station late at night and feeling vulnerable stirred up thoughts and fears that we did not want to have. We assumed that if we could get any help–which seemed doubtful when we saw the young man in the locked, caged area–we would pay a premium. How wrong we were!

Electives Shake Up Rashi Middle School

By Glenda Speyer, Head of Upper School

It is block 5 on Monday; it is block 4 on Friday and something is “shaking up” with the sixth, seventh and eighth grade students in the Rashi Middle School. Students are following their passions, their fascination, and their interests.They re-arrange themselves in different and unusual combinations and eagerly and excitedly head off in these newly-formed, mixed grades, mixed gender groups to a variety of locations across and beyond the school. This “shake-up”’ is all because it is time for electives in the Rashi middle school!

Ask Rashi sixth, seventh, or eighth graders what they love about Middle School, and many will tell you about their electives. Electives provide a change of pace from a day of academic classes by giving students the opportunity to participate in a diverse array of activities – including Israeli dance troupe, rock band, math and word games, animation, set design, sewing pajama pants, listening to the blues and more. Electives enhance kehillah (community) by mixing students across grades, and they encourage students to explore new interests while having fun.

Not all electives take place in the Rashi building. Many students choose to be reading buddies as part of the JCL (Jewish Community Literacy) elective. They travel each Monday to the Curran Early Childhood Education Center in Dedham to help kindergarten students with their reading skills. Our students take their roles as mentors very seriously. Watching them with their buddies at their side, or in their lap, one sees how this close, warm moment of reading together has been modeled for our children at home and is now being shared so naturally with their buddies. It is particularly heartwarming to see Rashi students who struggled with reading in the past share the strategies they have learned with their young buddies.

Another fabulous elective, begun last year, is the multigenerational gardening initiative. Our students work with NewBridge seniors at the campus Community Garden, made possible by Rashi alumni parents Jamie and Harold Kotler. The generations join forces to plant seeds and bulbs, trim and transplant flowers, and learn about fertilizing, mulching, and composting. Our students demonstrate their compassion by working on the plants of NewBridge residents who are unable to come to the garden. When the elective began this fall, it was wonderful to see the expressions on our students’ faces when one of the residents pulled out carrots that they had planted as seeds last spring and gave a carrot to each student for a snack!

These elective offerings reach students of all levels and interests. They enable students to interact with teachers in different ways – playing instruments with your math teacher, or discussing how to work with a five year old with your Hebrew teacher. So, whether it’s The Stock Market Game, examining physics in action with Harvard students, or writing plays and poetry, the shake-up has taken form. The shape is one of rich and valuable experiences and a relaxed environment for the Rashi Middle School students.

“One” Relates to Rashi’s Five Core Values

By Bella P. and Shoshana B., Grade 7

In September, we welcomed an author-in-residence, Kathryn Otoshi, from Facing History and Ourselves. Ms. Otoshi has a vivid past that she shared with us through her stories, One and Zero, and through her brilliant words. She is the author of many books for children, but she chose to share with us two in particular. One and Zero weave counting and identification of color into a story about bullying and standing up for yourself.

As she stood before the middle school, she unraveled the meaning behind the seemingly playful words in her books. Ms. Otoshi read us her books with eloquence and dignity. One told us the story of an excluded and bullied color, Blue. Blue was always picked on by the harsh color of red. Although the other colors were nicer to Blue and agreed that Blue wasn’t being treated fairly, none of them stood up for Blue in the presence of Red. In the end, every color transformed into a number, signifying that they would stand up for themselves and others. All but Red. Red began to roll away but Blue asked if Blue and Red could be equal. After this, Red becomes a number, too.

This children’s story signifies many values: values to the world, and values in this com-munity. Rashi’s five core values – limud, tzedek, kehila, kavod and ruach – all play into this lively story. The value of limud was demonstrated through the colors’ abilities to adapt and learn from each other’s teachings. Tzedek was shown through One’s ability to make sure that everyone was feeling welcomed and that there was a sense of fairness in the environment. Kehila was revealed by the way the colors finally accepted everyone for their true selves. The value of kavod was evident when One stood up for Blue, for standing up for yourself is a true form of kavod. Lastly, ruach was uncovered in the energetic way that all of the colors responded to becoming numbers and welcoming each other.

Zero was a book about self-confidence. Surprisingly, Zero was written following One, and not the expected opposite. What happens when your community accepts you, but you don’t accept yourself? This is a question often asked, yet never really answered. In Zero, the main character, Zero, is eventually helped to see that if Zero accepted herself, Zero would see that she already had a true place.

One and Zero are important books for Rashi students to learn from because they tell im-portant stories about the truth of community. Additionally, the depth in the stories opens up entirely new learning opportunities for us as students. For instance, it teaches us the merit of standing up for ourselves and others along with simple learning skills such as counting and reading.
Overall, Kathryn Otoshi taught us much about core values and the importance of stand-ing up for yourself, themes present in our day-to-day Rashi lives.

Second grader Isabelle S. reports:

The book One by Kathryn Otoshi is an extraordinary book! You might know about bullying but One teaches you a lot moer you probably don’t know! When you open the book you are greeted with colors that teach you a lesson about bullying. In the book, One stands up for Blue. Another example I learned that friends can help solve any bullying problem. Read this book and you will know much more!