Practical Compassion: Rashi’s First Grade and “The Shoe That Grows”

Rashi students and teachers are keeping a blog to chronicle their experience with the Rashi Purim Tamchui Project. Enjoy the first post!


The first grade learned about “The Shoe That Grows” on Monday. They were introduced to the organization and saw pictures of similarly-aged children in other countries who wear ill-fitting and torn shoes. Some children had no shoes at all!

“The Shoe That Grows” created a special shoe that grows with the child and has been distributing these shoes to communities in need around the world.

They learned about practical compassion – which means finding a problem and then figuring out a useful solution to fix it.

As a group, the first graders decided to make something useful for others, sell it in our community, take the money, and donate it to “The Shoe That Grows” to buy more shoes.

We integrated our unit on fiber with this idea and decided to weave potholders on our hoop looms.

We hope to sell these potholders before school and after Kabbalat Shabbat in the coming weeks. Make sure to stop by!


By Talia and Will, Grade 2


Talia and Will, second grade bloggers explain why they are wearing brains on their heads.

Do you remember making a brain in our class? How did we do that?

We took pipe cleaners and twirled them together and we made dendrites. We started with the word, “water” and then we each had a chance to add an idea and our clump of pipe cleaner dendrites to the brain. It went on and on.

Yesterday we all wore our brains on the outside of our heads.

How did we manage that?

Talia: We used paper and we colored the parts of the brain. Then we cut them out and Mrs. Sisenwine put them together for us to wear like a hat. I got to wear mine with a crown, because it was my birthday.

Will: We made a right side and a left side of our brain and learned what each side does.

Is there anything else that you would like to tell the people??

Will: Happy February vacation.

Talia: Have a good vacation.


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Interfaith Families at Rashi: Prepare to be Welcomed, Never Judged

Michael Grappo, Rashi Parent

I was raised in a non-Jewish family and didn’t have a real personal reference to Judaism until I met who would later become my wife. We enrolled in ‘A Taste of Judaism’ at Temple Israel after we were engaged – highly recommended for anyone non-Jewish who hasn’t taken it! We were married in a traditional ceremony and we started living a Jewish life together. Having children has been the most rewarding part of our journey in this way. For me Judaism has informed my children and family life in ways that are immeasurable and so meaningful to us. When asked if I’m Jewish, my standard reply is ‘my wife & children are Jewish, and I’m lucky’.

When it came time to consider schools, I must say that I didn’t have any pause as to feeling welcome in a Jewish school community. This is because every experience that I had up until that point was nothing but warm, welcoming and loving in so many ways. This was true within our wider family, community and my experience at Temple Israel. What I did find was the same welcome feeling, a sense of true belonging and community as I roamed the halls of our new school and got to know other families and staff at Rashi.


So right away, I felt at home and felt a sense of community where we all can learn from one another and our experiences, while passing along these benefits to our children. I’ve felt respected at Rashi because those who know that I am living a Jewish life by choice know that it is just that, a choice, something important to my family and me, something that has enriched our lives in so many ways. Everyone has been nothing but supportive of that.

I would say to anyone who is non Jewish who is considering the Rashi community to be prepared to be welcomed, never judged, and look forward to a warm community where you can constantly learn along with your children while getting to know some really wonderful families and faculty. This, along with a state of the art educational experience has become a blessing for my family and me, and just another part of our Jewish experience together.

Why We Chose Rashi for our Multicultural Children

Charlie Ishikawa, Rashi Parent

I have a son, Akeakamai, and a daughter, Kealakai, who are in second grade and kindergarten at Rashi. I am not Jewish, and yet hearing my son say that he loves learning about being Jewish from Rashi feels great to me. You see, my wife, Rachel, is Jewish. She’s a city girl, born and raised in Boston. And we chose Rashi for our son and daughter, because the teachers here nurture genuine pride in a child’s Jewish heritage and, from that, a respect and curiosity about others and the world around them.

Our children are Ukrainian,  Polish, and Lithuanian — descendants of Eastern European Jews. Their other half is what I like to call the Hawaiian Plantation Constellation—and that’s Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese and Native Hawaiian—that’s me. I am born and raised in Hawai’i. Rachel and I, we like to call our kids “Jewians”.



When we were trying to decide on schools for our children, in addition to a strong academic, artistic and physical education, we found ourselves concerned for their multi-cultural identity. We would like them to have fluency in their heritage, their roots, so that they can better navigate and share themselves with their world. We found Rashi to be the perfect place to help us build this within our children.

For our multi-cultural, mixed religious family, Rashi is terrific. They have a way of welcoming children into Jewish teachings that’s very age appropriate and accessible. It’s one that we’ve found, and from what we hear from Akea and Keala, to be driven by curiosity and respect.


Rashi is an Extension of Everything We Love About Our Temple

By Jessica Carroll, Rashi parent

IMG_5710Temple Beth Elohim was a given for us. We knew it was where we wanted to start our Jewish journey with our family.  When Leah, our oldest daughter, was 2, we joined the temple so that we could make sure to get a spot at the preschool, Gan Elohim.

I remember my first experience with The Rashi School, when Leah was 3. The Rashi Middle School drama group came to preschool and sang some songs and did some acting for the preschoolers and they were so impressive.  They were so amazing. I was nowhere near ready to think about Kindergarten, so I sort of filtered that away.

Then as time went on and Kindergarten was approaching, our preschool director started saying that we really needed to look at Rashi for her because it was an extension of everything we loved about Temple Beth Elohim. Especially as I looked at who my kids were and thought about how they flourished at the our preschool, it felt like Rashi was a natural evolution for them. Leah entered Rashi in Kindergarten, followed by Jonah and now Jordy.

I love that our temple’s Rabbis are present at Rashi.  I love that my kids are comfortable running through the halls of TBE even though they don’t go to Sunday School there.

It us gives the best of both worlds.

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Why Do I Send My Kids to Rashi?


My name is Cindy Janower.  I am the parent of two Rashi graduates and a Rashi fifth grader.

First of all, the faculty is committed and energized – you feel it in the hallways.  Rashi has probably the best staff culture I’ve seen in any workplace – our faculty love to teach, they are passionate about the school’s mission, they love to work with their colleagues, and they are professionals who deeply respect each and every child.  I learned long ago that a school with happy adults is a school with happy, developing children.  And I’ve seen that now with all three of my kids, two of whom graduated to excel in high school and the third now in 6th grade.  The kids feel supported, cared for, and known; and in that kind of environment, they can really take risks, burnish their emerging identities, and find their voices.

Secondly, everything the staff does at Rashi is aimed at enhancing teaching and learning with a thoughtful eye toward what they want our graduates to know and be able to do.  The school’s goals are laid out in a curriculum map that is systematically revisited. Rashi’s approach to curriculum development is thoughtful, benchmarked and generative. The commitment to growth and forward progress is hard-wired into the culture, mirroring Judaism’s insistence that we annually reevaluate ourselves at Rosh Hashana and at life’s key moments. There’s a recognition that when we don’t continually reassess and progress, we stagnate spiritually. They same is true for institutions.  At Rashi, the staff is committed to setting high standards and growing to reach them.  It’s exciting to witness that constant, thoughtful and creative evolution the classroom – in the curriculum, the school’s use of technology, the staff’s evolving understanding of how to differentiate instruction for individual children, and the faculty’s ability to mentor each other. Our children have been the beneficiaries of that kind of innovation but I also think they’re drinking it all in – learning to be willing to experiment and get out of their comfort zones because of the way it’s been modeled by the adults in the building. Our eldest, for example, is a senior at Noble and Greenough, where she has excelled and for which she was very well prepared.  But what impressed us most was her commitment to challenge herself by sticking with the classes she found most difficult.  She visited her teachers, she integrated feedback, and she fought to do well.  Her teachers there have been really impressed with her commitment.  I’m not sure there’s anything more important to role model to kids than the discipline of having a growth mindset.

IMG_2713Moreover, Rashi’s curricular goals go beyond what they want our kids to know and be able to do; they’re also aimed at who we want our graduates to be – young men and women of characterConfidentQuestioningThoughtfulCaringKnowledgeable and grounded in our 3,500-year heritage.  Steeped in visions of justice.  That matters to me.  Indeed, AJ and I believe that our most important task as parents is to shape our children’s characters. This is our chance to build the foundation of who our children will become as individuals – how they will live in the world, as doers and as learners.  And we don’t feel that we can do that alone – it’s simply too important, especially since kids are exposed younger and younger to a broad array of influences through the media – they need lenses and frameworks with which to interpret and filter all those influences.  Indeed, our children spend more time with their teachers and their peers than they do with us.  Rashi partners with us by breathing life into the values we want transmitted to our children. The school understands that education is about the reading, writing, and arithmetic and it excels at teaching each of those subjects – but it also uniquely understands that school is about more than that – it’s about building character –and to a person, our faculty is passionate about that goal. I can tell you that my 12 year old, Ali, wrote a big sign at the age of 6 that said “The World is a Person, it has feelings” and that my 14 year old happily gave up birthday gifts to collect videos for Children’s Hospital several years back. But I’m also struck by the fact that day to day they make decisions that are menschy – one gave up an afternoon, despite a substantial homework load, to spend time with a friend who just found out she had celiac disease; one got her entire grade to cheer for the child who seemed to struggle more than most to be encouraging and supportive at their class retreat last year; each of them have, at various times, defended a sister against us, her parents, when they think we’re out of line.  They have some self-awareness about right and wrong – themselves and others.  They’re obviously not the only kids who have that self-awareness, but I’m glad to know the school partnered with us to impart that sense of being intentional, compassionate, and acting with integrity.

I think there are enormous advantages to learning in a Jewish school.  Our educational culture has produced some of the greatest minds in history; individuals who were not just knowledgeable in their fields but iconoclasts, willing to challenge the status quo and think differently.  I don’t think that’s an accident.  I think it comes from learning countless stories of our ancestors succeeding against all odds.  It’s a very powerful set of stories to be steeped in at a young age.  Rashi takes this one step further by giving students real, current examples of Tzedakah heroes who’ve made a big difference in the world.  Those stories impart courage and inspire a measure of audacity.  I also think it comes from an age-old educational discipline that encourages robust peer debate and acknowledges the multiple lenses with which to view each phrase, each word -sometimes even individual letters in the Torah.  That teaches students that even a document with so much authority isn’t dogma – it invites one to question, to interpret, to wrestle with the content.  I think that imparts an imperative to engage actively, to expect different perspectives on any issue, and to never understand simple pronouncements as dogma.  Students learn that they have a responsibility to think through different perspectives and to make their own decisions; peer pressure and status quo are a fact of life, but they are never an excuse.  We have the freedom, but also the responsibility, to think and to decide.

And if I can make one final point, I’ve found that Rashi encourages kids’ voices. You hear them in the hallways – it is not the quietest school you’ll visit.  Students’ opinions are solicited – even on such weighty questions like “do you think God should have acted differently?”  You’ll see a lot of camaraderie between student and teacher; and also serious challenge.  My 9th grader told her math teacher at the beginning of her 7th grade year that she was having a hard time with her teaching style.  And they talked about it.  Her teacher took her seriously and they both made some changes to make sure the learning environment worked for both of them.  That’s amazing.  You’ll also see it in the social justice curriculum which, by expressing a belief that individuals, even kids, can make a difference, helps them to realize their power.  And, again, you’ll see that our graduates disproportionately become leaders in their next environments and that they are very comfortable talking to adults; high schools always say that Rashi graduates are creative and “they know how to advocate for themselves”.  When our oldest was interviewing at high schools, my husband used to try to make conversation with the kids in the waiting room and we realized that most teenagers look at their feet and grunt a lot.  High school admissions people will agree with that.  One told us that her job was to torture 13 year olds by trying to draw out more than two-word answers.  But she pointed out that Rashi students were consistently different than that.  They knew themselves, they were confident, and they were very comfortable talking to adults.

So I guess I’d want you to walk away with three points: the school will both exemplify and teach a growth mindset; it will give your kids a grounding in our values and help them become people of character; it; and it will encourage kids’ creative, strong voices.  Personally, in addition to having my children master reading, writing, and arithmetic, those are the things I want them to take away from lower and middle school – character, a zeal for learning and resilience, creativity, self-directedness and the self-confidence to advocate and interface with others.  Those emanate from Jewish values but they’re key 21st century skills.

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How a Committed Public School Family Chose Rashi

My name is Michele Markley. My daughter Mia is a third grader and my son Adam is in first grade. Full disclosure, my husband is a rabbi. So most people might look at me and say, well OBVIOUSLY you were going to send your kids to Rashi. But if you ask anyone in admissions here, you will quickly learn that this was not at all the case.


We had heard AMAZING things about Rashi and thought it was a terrific school, but we pay taxes in Needham, a wonderful school district. My husband and I both grew up in public schools. His mother was a public school teacher. I am a public school special education teacher. There are so many amazing things about public school so why would we PAY to send our children to Rashi?

I had pretty much decided that we were going to send our children to our local school when we attended Rashi’s annual dinner with friends. The theme of the night was the social justice focus at Rashi. We watched a video and learned all about the different ways that social justice is embodied at Rashi. When we left, my husband Todd and I turned to each other and realized, maybe we needed to give this place another chance. The idea that our children would be going to school each day where social justice, community, and other crucial values in our minds were being taught each and every moment was something we might not having given enough attention to. Of course there are important values taught in public school, TO BE SURE. But the other reality in public school is that we are under different pressures.

By the time children reach third grade in public schools in Massachusetts, they need to take the PARCC or MCAS standardized tests. Therefore, there has become this sense that we need to start teaching certain skills earlier. This leads to a lot of pressure for kids to master certain skills, even if they aren’t quite developmentally ready to do so. This rush to squeeze in everything we need to teach does not leave a lot of room for in-depth exploration much of the time.

At Rashi, my children have been exposed to programming robots, weaving, hearing from a number of different social justice organizations, partnering with NewBridge for multigenerational programs and so much more. And these are not one-shot deals- they are part of an integrated curriculum, being touched upon in a number of the different curricular areas. Even more importantly for me, though, these experiences teach critical thinking skills, problem solving, teamwork, compassion, and perseverance. I hear many stories from both Mia and Adam about needing to work out challenging issues through testing different solutions and working together with peers. These are the skills I want them to be developing.

My daughter’s amazing second grade teacher (just one of the many gifted teachers we have had here thus far) dedicated a significant amount of time teaching about multiple intelligences and the importance of making mistakes and putting forth effort in order to grow our brains. That year, Mia had gotten the idea that she wasn’t good at math. The social emotional learning she was doing in class, paired with the extra reminders from her teacher, allowed Mia to realize that she was in control of her success. She left second grade a much more confident mathematician. Each and every day, there is something new that happens here which reminds me that we could not have made a better decision for our children’s education, for their emotional well-being, and for their development as quality human beings on this earth.

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