You are the Future: A Yom Hashoah Insight

By Jim Blankstein

Reposted from peje.org/blog

The other day I spent $100,000 (OK, so I spend it over the last nine years in tuition) for my son to learn four words. And I was glad to do so.

Let me start at the beginning… last week was Yom Hashoah and The Rashi School, where my son attends, had invited a Holocaust survivor to speak. The children all assembled in the Beit Midrash: Six students read a prayer and lit six yahrzeit candles, two students gave a brief reading, and the guest was introduced by a teacher.

As the guest stood up to talk, he appeared overwhelmed. He said to the children in a thin voice “You are the future,” — and then fell silent. He was pale and non-responsive, although he remained standing. A few adults helped him to sit down. The school nurse was called as was 911. The children were asked to leave the Beit Midrash, which they did very quietly and calmly.

Lying on a gurney, leaving for the hospital, our humble guest said in a soft but firm voice, “I am sorry that I did this to the children.”

Sorry?, I kept repeating in my head. Sorry? I didn’t get it. What was he sorry about? Sorry for the all-too-brief speech? Sorry that he required attention? Sorry that he may have upset some of the kids?

The seventh-grade class, my son later explained to me, was moved by the survivor’s four words and they had a lengthy conversation after the assembly. What did “you are the future” mean to them? They understood the great responsibility to always remember. They grasped that they are the future leaders of our shuls. The future leaders in our communities. The future leaders of great businesses. The future leaders of our country. The future leaders of our Jewish people.

As a parent of two day school students, I’m reminded on a regular basis that not only are my children receiving a best-in-class education, but they are also learning what it means to be a Jew and how to handle the attendant responsibilities. My wife and I are blessed that their day schools provide enrichment to their lives every day. Now our kids also know that they are the future. May our future leaders—my kids and yours—take us from strength to strength!

Jim Blankstein, the parent of a current Rashi student and an alumna, is the Senior Marketing Strategist at PEJE (Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education).

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Following the Yellow Brick Road

By Sue Saber, Rashi Librarian

“As the century unfolds, students will probably rely almost exclusively on electronic resources for their research and reading…. The institution on campus already established to support research and reading needs to fully embrace this new reality. That institution is the library.” – Tom Corbett, Executive Director of Fisher-Watkins Library at Cushing Academy, Ashburnham, MA

When Cushing Academy decided to go digital in 2009, replacing the school’s 20,000 print collection with electronic resources, librarians across the country, including myself, raised questions as to the judiciousness of this decision. Now that we are well entrenched into the 21st century, I continue to reflect on a daily basis as to the direction of the school library.

In reviewing the discussions at last summer’s American Library Association’s conference, where concerns were vigorously voiced centering on library obsolescence in the digital age, my ongoing ruminations seem justified. We at Rashi are fortunate to have a library that is not only located in a beautiful space but also contains a good sized updated print collection as well as computers for student research and project creation, and dedicated teachers who encourage the utilization of the library for free reading and research use.

I see the library as providing a safe environment for students to come and select reading materials comfortably. We may chat about their selections and how I can provide other titles on similar themes, redirect them to more age-level appropriate genres, or target a reading level to provide more confidence and comprehension. We may just chat. I entice students to interact with library resources through contests, incentives, and book talks. I invite students to hang out in the library on Monday-Thursday mornings before school, when they can play skill-oriented games on the library computers.

Where do we go from here? One direction is obviously digitization. At Rashi, we are integrating the WebPath Express link, preselected sites through the electronic catalog, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners-sponsored databases, and World Book online as very viable electronic resources. We continue to encourage Google-advanced search as a way to utilize the student-learned Boolean operators and domain choices to select a better website.

The library will purchase eBook titles to host other options in reading. In a recent survey of Rashi students in grades 6-8, 83% of those who responded said that their family owned a reading device (Kindle, Nook, iPad, iTouch, or SmartPhone) and 75% said that they would have access to the reader. Close to half said that they would “check out” a title from our library, and 40% said that they would be interested in downloading audio books. We know that parents are purchasing desired titles for their children at home, and families are using the public library to download books. Several students have already expressed interest on being on a committee to select titles for purchase for the school library.

Tom Corbett of Cushing Academy has stated that librarians must still teach how to share digitized copyrighted information. He emphasizes what librarians have known since the Internet became infused in our society: research must involve more than the random facts from the Internet.

I address issues of proper research behavior when I prepare students for researching an assigned project. I have observed that some students copy and paste online information with little regard to the plagiarism they are committing. They lack a strong comprehension of the material or a synthesis of that information and they have minimal knowledge of copyright rules and the necessity for producing a bibliography – little wonder, where today accessing music, movies, and TV shows is easily attainable with no understanding of paying for the privilege. (In the Rashi library, the Thursday early morning Library Lounge provides student-requested music – purchased, only!)

Information literacy, namely website evaluation and the time-honored research rules (bibliography, copyright, original input – no plagiarism), is still in the forefront of a librarian’s tasks. Learning to dissect biased and agenda-based sites and holding onto the mantras of reliable, accurate, and current criteria for web evaluation are key to a student becoming an astute researcher. The need to collaborate with faculty to foster student research is also key. When the student sees the librarian and the teacher as a unit, melding the teacher’s goals with the resources, be they print or online, the student stays more focused.

Today, it’s not a question of if we should digitize the library. We should. What we continually need to reevaluate is how we can best assist our students with the thinking and good research skills to enhance their work. Immediate gratification cannot replace that which needs to be.

Why We Support Rashi

By Barbara and Ed Shapiro, Rashi parents

We had not considered an independent school for our children. We had attended public schools and our children went to the local public school. But when several close friends repeatedly recommended Rashi, saying it would be a perfect fit for our children, and when our town’s budget cuts had started to impact public education, we decided to take a look.

From the moment we walked in the door, we sensed an energy and passion for learning, Judaism, and social justice – from teachers and students alike – that was amazing. And from the minute our children entered their classrooms, we saw that that energy was infectious.

Rashi was the only school we looked at. The values based education had enormous appeal. We transferred our children to Rashi and all members of the family couldn’t be happier with the decision.

Our kids love coming to school. They love learning, their teachers and their classmates. They enjoyed school before, but there is something special about how and what they are learning at Rashi. The teachers really know each child; they nurture their individual strengths and interests and they find ways to build on areas where they may need additional support.

We’ve always instilled in our children the importance of making a difference and giving back to the community – and Rashi’s values reinforce and strengthen this family value. For several years our children had asked for charitable gifts instead of birthday gifts. This year our son he asked people to give to Little Red Wagon, one of the Tamchui organizations from last year that had inspired him.

We also appreciate the opportunity to get involved as parents. Whether it be through Yachad, admissions, development, social justice, or attending Kabbalat Shabbat, we can be as much a part of the Rashi community as our children – and we cherish that.

Since tuition doesn’t cover the full cost of a Rashi education, contributions to the Annual Campaign help bridge the gap. Giving allows Rashi to keep tuition reasonable and to provide financial assistance to keep the school accessible to a diverse student body. We have also made a gift to the school’s capital campaign, in order to help the campaign reach its final goal.

We were not at Rashi for the launch of the capital campaign that funded the new school building, but we and our children benefit from it every day. By giving to Rashi, we’re contributing to the gift that Rashi gives our children.

Tamchui Reflections

Tamchui is a philanthropy project during which Rashi students learn about five organizations that help children, and then decide how to allocate their “chips” among the organizations. For more details on Tamchui, go to http://www.rashi.org/tamchui.

This year, several Rashi parents shared their reflections on Tamchui and the effect it has on their children.

Every year during Tamchui, our children meet five new friends. They learn about five amazing charities that help others – how they were started, whom they help, and what makes them special. For two weeks, Rashi children get to spend time with, know and love them. Over time, when our children run into these organizations when they’re out and about, looking back through their Rashi memorabilia, or in the media, they get that thrill of recognizing an old best friend. – Joni Burstein

As a family new to the Rashi School, the Tamchui experience has been deeply moving. We have been struck by the way an entire community joined together to take on an incredibly complex project – a project with a deep sense of purpose, passion and commitment. The opportunity to instill in our children a sense of obligation to reach out as well as the sense of effectiveness and enthusiasm that can be experienced as a result has been invaluable. During the school-wide assembly marking the closing of this year’s Purim Tamchui project, I was filled with pride and emotion as I watched my fourth grade son stand on stage reciting quotes from fellow Rashi students describing their personal experiences with Tamchui. As I then glanced over at my sixth grade son and saw the look of anticipation and excitement in his eyes as the total of the funds raised during Tamchui was about to be announced, I truly felt thrilled and grateful for the opportunity that our family has had to be welcomed into this very special kehillah. – Lisa Sussman

After seeing the movie The Lorax with my son Avi, a Rashi kindergarten student, we discussed its message about the need to conserve our resources and the importance of balancing the environment with economic growth and how Ted, the movie’s hero, succeeds in bringing back the trees. I asked Avi if he could think of other heroes who are making a difference in the world and without any hesitation he said: “Nicholas from Gotta Have Sole.”

I was amazed and so pleased that in his very first year of learning about Tamchui Avi already thinks of the representatives (or at least of Nicholas) as heroes! Tamchui representatives are real heroes and they serve as wonderful examples to our children that they too can make a difference in our world. Thanks to Tamchui our children not only have five new friends but alsonew heroes! – Ivona Olszak