On Wednesday, we had an event in honor of Rosh Chodesh Teves. As we all know, Teves contains the fast of Asara B’Teves. On Asara B’Teves, the walls of Yerushalayim were surrounded which later led to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, which we have learned occurred as a result of Sinas Chinam. Therefore, the theme of our Rosh Chodesh Teves event was Achdus. We participated in many activities with the purpose of learning about and internalizing Achdus. We played Hugga Bear where we all hugged each other every time the music stopped and a number was called out. Then, in groups of two, we designed an outline of a person as different types of Jews, from which we created a chain and hung them up in the school to symbolize Achdus amongst different Jews. Lastly, for the last day of Chanukah, we filled our own doughnuts. It was a lot of fun!
This week was the first official VTHS “Winterim.” What is Winterim you ask? It might be the greatest thing since a student started selling hot churros at the VTHS breakfast cafe. Yet, I was asked many times before the Winterim started why we have school if we are not “learning.” I find this problematic. First let me explain what Winterim is and then I can get into the issue.
Winterim is a term used by many schools to describe a special set of days dedicated to special programming. For those interested in the etymology of the word it is the combining of “Winter” and “Interim” to describe a temporary period during the winter. Will this be on the vocab quiz this week? Maybe. In my experience Winterim is generally at the end of the first semester or at the start of second semester and can last up to a week or even two. This being the first year of Winterim at VTHS, we ran it for two days although special programming this week is not new to VTHS and many Jewish day schools.
Many Jewish day schools have school on December 25th. Why? Well, our students could likely answer that question as they were treated to a shiur by Rabbi Biron on that very topic as part of the Winterim schedule. For those who missed it, in short, Jewish schools do not give off on Christmas as it is a religious non-Jewish holiday and it should not look like we are celebrating a religious holiday of another religion. Rabbi Biron explained this based on a psak (ruling of Jewish law) by Rav Moshe Feinstein and did a wonderful job going into the details, history and philosophical reasons for this decision. Lightheartedly, he did start the shiur with the caveat that he himself did not make the rule for the school, but that he did believe in it. The students seemed satisfied, but the decision still leaves the school with some logistical issues as many of our General Studies staff are not available on the 25th and the afternoon of the 24th. Thus, Winterim was born!
Winterim is an opportunity to focus on special learning opportunities and student bonding activities. This is something we are very good at in general, but these days afford a deeper dive into them. The 24th and 25th of this week began with the usual meaningful davening and amazing Torah classes that lead into the Winterim programming. Each grade had a Principal Project workshop where they were teamed up with partners to explore, depending on which grade they are in, professions, colleges and social entrepreneurship projects they are interested in. They brainstormed about their various projects, developed questions they need to answer and left with a suggested list of further questions to help frame their research for the next phase of the project. The 9th-11th grades had individual college guidance workshops and the 12th grade had an Israel Yeshiva guidance workshop. Students were also treated to special pizza and sushi lunches based on various competitions they had won. The 9th and 10th grade spent time designing a new logo for the school, which led to some very creative ideas. There was a student council led dodgeball tournament and arcade and, finally, the entire school had the opportunity to hear from our guest speaker, Mr. Baruch Cohen, Esq. All in all, it was a wonderful two days filled with enjoyable Torah learning, inspiring presentations, exciting passion based workshops, helpful guidance and fun activities. Yet, there were still some students that questioned the wisdom in having full days if we did not have General Studies classes.
The question is certainly a good one, but illustrates to me a myopic view of learning that many students today have been indoctrinated into years before they reached high school. This view is that learning only happens in a classroom, sitting in rows, listening to a lecture, while ferociously taking notes and taking tests to illustrate retention of what is in those notes. When the educational plan or model shifts even ever so slightly it is common to hear the rebell yell defending the sanctity of “learning.” One, at VTHS we do not believe that learning should or does only happen in this myopic framework. Two, the idea that learning did not occur during these two days is truly without merit.
In these two days, besides the morning Torah classes, our students learned in so many ways.
- Through the Principal Project Workshops our students continued to build their collaborative skills by working in teams. They developed and focused on their personal interests, designed a plan of inquiry into those passions and laid the groundwork for further research.
- Through the College Guidance and Israel Yeshiva Workshops they learned about what they need to think about, research and accomplish in and out of high school to get into the colleges of their choice and had a thoughtful and in-depth discussion about life in Yeshiva in Israel.
- Through the logo design “challenge” our students learned art skills, collaborative creativity and school pride.
- With Rabbi Biron’s shiur our students learned why we have school on Christmas and, possibly more importantly, what it means to be proud as a Jew while respecting others who hold different beliefs.
- With Mr. Cohen’s presentation our students learned how David (of David and Goliath fame) was far from an underdog and that each and every single one at VTHS has unique and powerful talents.
- Finally, through the fun student council activities, our students saw models of leadership in our student council members, had a great time and practiced healthy competition.
Was there “learning” during Winterim? You better believe it. Do I think we should have more learning like this? You better believe it.
A theme carried over from last weeks Torah Portion to the festival of Chanukah highlights the significance of the little things. The Gemorah in Shabbos asks what is (Mai) Chanukah? Concluding that the reason the Rabbis established the festival of Chanukah was to commemorate the miracle of the flask of oil that only had enough oil for one day but lasted eight days. The question is asked why of all the miracles that transpired during the Chanukah period was the miracle of the lights chosen. When measuring miracles this would pale in comparison to the victory on the battlefield where the weak overcame the strong the few overcame the many etc.?
A similar question is found on the Torah’s narrative about the sale of Yosef to a group of Arab nomads. The Torah tells us his new masters were transporting spices instead of the usual animal hides or paraffin fuel that was more common for Arab nomads to be carrying. The Medrash on the Possuk tells us HKB”H arranged it to show how much He cares about his righteous ones. He wanted to make sure that Yosef had was sweet smelling produce to counteract the usual foul smell found on these nomads. What is difficult to understand is Yosef, at this point was traumatized, he had been thrown in a pit with scorpions then he was sold to Arabs why would he care what the caravan transporting him smelt like?
The answer to both these question is that HKB”H wants us to know that even though we are going through difficult times he is sharing those difficult times with us. This is conveyed and demonstrated by the little things that normally should not be there and are there only through a miracle of Hashem. As parents we have that ability to show our love even when our child is struggling and may not be in the frame of mind to appreciate it. This can be done with a little note, a pat on the back or a word of encouragement. While the little note etc. is not glamorous nor is it able to alleviate the difficulty it can sometimes make the difference in helping our child get through their hardship.
It is about the little things – We are moving towards the end of the semester and with it comes finals time. This time is very stressful for most students. Somehow in a matter of a week students are expected to review and know all they learned in the last four months plus. This includes all their Torah and secular studies classes. This amounts to an average of eight subjects. When you combine all that information together it can be extremely overwhelming. I would venture to say that a student in a dual curriculum program such as Valley Torah is expected to know and is being tested on more information than the average student in one of the UC colleges. While we cannot do the learning for our children nor can we take their tests we can be mindful of what they are going through. It is the little things that we can do to help that will show them how much we care and give them the strength and will to persevere and do well.
This is the latest segment of the weekly video series from Rabbi Stulberger – You’ve Been Called to the Dean’s Office. It’s a short (four minute) message on a timely Torah topic. This week’s message: “The Greatness Within.”
Our student council rose early, geared up for a “from scratch” doughnut making activity.
120 doughnuts were fried and glazed enhancing our Rosh Chodesh breakfast in honor of Chanukah.
Civil attorney, Baruch Cohen, will be delivering a special presentation to the boys on December 25 at 3:15 PM. Fathers are invited to attend (mincha will begin at 3:00 PM).
This is the latest segment of the weekly video series from Rabbi Stulberger – You’ve Been Called to the Dean’s Office. It’s a short (four minute) message on a timely Torah topic. This week’s message: “A Singular Focus.”
The Girls Division Chanukah Chagiga was fun, creative, and enjoyed by all. The girls dressed up as different time periods, from the 40’s until today. After a delicious lunch and milkshakes in the VTHS 50’s diner, the girls split up into teams and had a delicious and fun cupcake competition. Each team decorated several cupcakes using the frosting and toppings that were provided for them. The cupcakes were then presented to the judges, who picked a winning team based on appearance, creativity, theme connection, and of course, taste. We then played “The Burning Questions Game Show,” which challenged students to answer Chanukah trivia and questions about Valley Torah’s history.
Thank you to all those who helped make the Chanukah Chagiga the great success that it was.
The Boys Division Chanukah Chagigah and Chidon was a smashing success. We started with dancing to the music of Rabbi Moshe Samuels in our fully decorated and specially lighted Beis Medrash. We then segued into the Chidon section of the event hosted by our very own Rabbi Asher Biron. Each of the three rounds of the Chidon came down to the final question. After the dust settled, the senior class had won the Chidon. Lunch was served – humungous hero sandwiches – and Rabbi Dovid Horowitz from Mekor Hachaim addressed the boys. The raffle was followed by bentching and the boys returned to their regularly scheduled classes.
Thank you to Dr. Uri & Efrat Zisblatt for helping to sponsor this event!
In this weeks Parsha we find the Torah sharing an eternal truth about parenting. Rashi brings a Medrash that relates how Yaakov wanted to live in serenity. So Hashem sent him the affair of Yosef, remarking that “are the righteous not satisfied with what is prepared for them in the World – to – come, that they seek tranquility in this world too”? The commentaries on this Medrash focus on Yaakov’s desire to live in peace and quiet. Yaakov did not have an easy life. What was so terrible with him wanting to retire and enjoy his golden years? Yaakov most likely was looking forward to doing the Daf HaYomi, learning with his grand children maybe even taking walks with them to show them the wonders of creation. Yaakov was looking forward to a spiritual vacation not a hedonistic one, what was so wrong?
However, there is another aspect of this Medrash that I feel needs clarifying and that is why of all the troubles that Yaakov had, was the affair of Yosef the one that Hashem felt would send him the message that this world is not one for relaxing and taking it easy? I believe the answer is because the message about one’s real purpose in life can only be taught by teaching us about a fundamental aspect of parenting. Namely, that you cannot take a break from parenting – as soon as you let your guard down all the work you have invested in it, can be lost. Parenting is not easy, it never will be easy, it never was supposed to be easy. It is the one responsibility that no matter whom, no matter what and no matter when, needs to be worked at, to fulfill. You cannot put parenting on hold. Internalizing this truth will help us look at our lives and recognize that there is a greater purpose to life and just us we can’t take a break from life we can’t take a break from our purpose in life.
Family time and individual time: We should give thanks to Hashem for structuring our lives so that at least once a week we are able to spend quality time with our family. A time where work doesn’t beckon, where the constant buzz or chirp of our cellphone isn’t distracting us – and that’s on the holy day of Shabbos. However, the onus remains on us to create individual time to spend with each of our children separately on a consistent basis. A time where our children know what to expect and that it actually happens. This individual time is essential to us as parents as it gives us the opportunity to connect with our children but more importantly, it is critical for our children to know that they are valued and cared for as an individual.
This week began the interview process for potential incoming 9th graders. I have been enjoying meeting the future of Valley Torah and it got me thinking about if anyone is preparing these students for the interviews. Not that anyone that I have met has done a poor job. In fact, I have been very impressed. However, as someone who sat on the other side of the interview table many times in my life any and all tips were always welcome. So here are my tips for any 8th grader looking to come to Valley Torah or any high school for that matter. Good luck!
Don’t worry and be yourself:
You have taken your entrance exam, submitted your transcripts, almost finished middle school and are at the last stage of the application process. You have worked really hard to get to this point and should feel good about that. The interview is not a test. It is just a way to get to know you in a way a test can’t. We are interested in knowing what you are interested in and why you are interested in Valley Torah. Just be yourself and you will do great!
Be on time:
Ok. If you are interviewing at a high school the chances are you have little control over punctuality because you are coming with your parents and are not the one driving. However, you can remind your parents that it is important to be on time. Is being late a deal breaker? Of course not, especially if there is a good reason. Yet, being late can mean having to reschedule the interview and it is not best way to start the interview.
Dress for success:
This does not mean you have to come in a suit and tie. However, it also means it would probably not look great to come in shorts and a T-Shirt. Your regular school uniform will be just fine. By dressing nicely you are saying that you are taking the interview seriously and that goes a long way.
I know this sounds like a tall order. I mean come on, you are only thirteen year old! I don’t mean you have to know everything you want to be and everything you are yet. That will come with time and high school will help with that. However, be prepared to talk about some of the things you like, what you are good at and even some of the things you know you need to work on. Why? Because you will be asked to describe yourself either in general or in specific areas like your academics, what you do for fun or what you like or don’t like about school.
We can’t make you like school, but we are looking for students who generally do like school. Valley Torah is a wonderful school to learn in and we hope you are excited about coming here. Does that mean you have had to like every class you ever took? Of course not. What it means is you should come prepared to talk about some of the things that you do like about school. Every student is different and have had different experiences with the schools they are currently in. We understand that. However, there is generally something you liked and we want to hear about it. Of course, if you like many things we would love to hear about that as well.
Know something about the school
It is always good to come to the interview knowing about the school. This should be easy if you came to the open house and heard all about us. Use that information to describe why you want to come to Valley Torah. If you missed the open house, check the website, speak to some friends or ask your parents what they know about the school. If you still have questions, bring them to the interview.
Always have a question
In most interviews in life you will likely be asked if you have any questions for the interviewers. Be prepared with at least one. It should be about the school. Don’t ask what the interviewers favorite color is, but you could ask what clubs the school currently has.
I hope you found these tips helpful. Click here for a clip from Jewlarious.com, a website of Aish.com, from the movie The Internship of an interview gone pretty wrong, but somehow saved at the end. Enjoy!