Doors Closing, Doors Opening

May 18, 2017
22 Iyyar 5777

 

 

Dear AJA Community,

The ebbs and flows of a school year, this is the season of transition. As we move from the more serious mourning aspects of the Omer to the countdown to celebrate Shavuot, we also experience a transition with our students.

There is something bittersweet about the final days of a school year (although I know the children would disagree with the “bitter” piece!). It’s now time to say “farewell” and time to say “what’s next?”. We can all hear the simultaneous sounds of doors closing and doors opening.

Next Tuesday, at our Upper School graduation ceremony (we hope you can join us), we will say goodbye to some outstanding and special students, to young men and women that our talented staff have heavily invested in over the past many years. And, though I’ve been a Head of School for quite sometime, I can tell you that saying goodbye to students never gets any easier. At this time of mixed emotions, I do love the beautiful symmetry that occurs organically. We send off our Seniors to the next adventure, and can also take comfort in knowing that in a just a few months, they will find their new exciting next steps...whether in Israel or here in the states at a College or University. We will also welcome a brand new group of eager, curious, motivated and amazing freshmen to start the whole process anew. Beautiful Symmetry.

This past Shabbat, I joined the Upper School students at their year end Shabbaton. I continue to be awed by the leadership and dedication of our Student Council who prepared a robust Shabbat program which included Tefillah, singing, musical Havdalah, dancing, dancing and more dancing. (oh, did I mention the dancing?). There was one particular moment that moved me. The chaperones were trying to get davening started, but we couldn’t because we simply couldn't stop kids from dancing and celebrating Shabbat. They were truly happy to be with each other. Watching our Seniors study Torah together, on what was most likely their last group experience, was both inspiring and emotional.  This is the tension of this time of year at a school. Doors closing. Doors opening.

As we close the door on another academic year, and offer our best wishes and mazel tov to the AJA Class of 2017, we are also opening our door for our 2017-18 school year. We are happy to report unprecedented growth in our younger grades! I am so confident this will be a year of amazing learning, continued incredible teaching and please G-d - for all AJA students - lots and lots of dancing!

Wishing all the best to the graduating Seniors and remember that MY door is always open.

קְֽנֹה־חָכְמָ֗ה מַה־טּ֥וֹב מֵחָר֑וּץ וּקְנ֥וֹת בִּ֝ינָ֗ה נִבְחָ֥ר מִכָּֽסֶף

How much better to acquire wisdom than gold; To acquire understanding is preferable to silver. (Mishlei/Proverbs 16:16)
 

Mazel tov!
 

L'shalom,


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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Why Are We Here?

May 4, 2017
8th of Iyyar, 5777

Dear AJA Community,

This week and last solidified for me (and hopefully, to many of you) why we are here. Why we have this school. Why we are a Modern Orthodox Day school. Why we are so proud of our role as a cornerstone of Jewish education in Atlanta. As we observed the events of Yom Hashoah, Yom HaZikaron & Yom Ha'atzmaut - watching the hard work unfold from our dedicated and talented Hebrew staff, our Shlichim, our US Student Council and our B’not Sherut  - it clearly answered my “why?”.

Ultimately, the reason we are all placed on this Earth is to partner with Hashem. Sharing the gift of tzedakah, raising our children, fulfilling mitzvot, demonstrating middot to our friends and neighbors, or just simply, doing what is right. All around us, there are opportunities to literally partner with G-d to do holy things in this world, and to treat all lives (and each other) as holy. It is what Parashat Achrei-Mot Kedoshim tells us this week...we are all holy, as created by G-d.

קְדשִׁ֣ים תִּֽהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י ה' אֱלֹֽקיכֶֽם You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy. (Vayikra 19:2) 

I believe that the best way to bring this to life for the children at AJA, is through our mission: teaching them commitment to the Love of Torah, Love of Israel and the Jewish people, and doing this all in a nurturing, inclusive and loving community.

As the events of the last two weeks unfolded - Yom Hashoah - Yom HaZikaron - Yom Ha'atzmaut (Lower SchoolUpper School) - I watched our students of all ages gain an understanding of our history, our challenges as Jews, and how they each have a unique role as a chain from the past to the future. They learned about kavod (respect) and honor for those who were killed in the Shoah, or defending Medinat Yisrael. It was moving to see the children ride the emotional wave between each of the very different days. They davened, sang, danced and celebrated in front of their peers, their teachers and members of our community. The Hebrew teachers, US Student Council, Shlichim and B’not Sherut turned every corner of both campuses into a tangible reflection of our love for Israel and pride in AJA. It was evident how important these days were for the children, and the connection they felt to their heritage.

This week was also about community. Watching all the parent volunteers, who, during Teacher Appreciation Week, showered our teachers and staff with such authentic gestures of gratitude - it was incredible. It reiterated to me, that we ALL understand this AJA journey is about our children, their future and their connection to community and Judaism...and our parents get it. Special thanks to all of you who contributed time and energy to thank our teachers all week. It meant a lot to everyone here.

As we move closer to Shabbat, I encourage you to talk to your children about what they learned this week at Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut and how it helped them cement their connection to our heritage, and our land, Israel. I guarantee they will have some special stories to tell.

L'shalom,

Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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From Generation to Generation

March 23, 2017
25 Adar 5777

 

Dear AJA Community,

When my inbox is overflowing, it gets a bit overwhelming. I know you can relate! Lately, my inbox has been filled with emails that stop me in my tracks. They pull me right in and I can’t stop reading. These are emails with your AJA stories. I have been floored by the responses to my request for YOUR AJA storiesIt has been incredible for me to read the many ways that AJA has impacted your family, and how and why you feel so connected to this school.

Here is a small glimpse into some of the stories. (to keep it brief, I only included a handful of those I have received). We are compiling your stories without including the names or specifics that would reveal the authors (some of you have asked). We want to hear your AJA story. What is it that connects you to our school? What is it that means the most to you about AJA? Here are snippets of what your fellow parents, community members, alumni and teachers had to say:

"I look at where our two graduates are now, and what they have achieved. I believe strongly that their success definitely was due in part to GHA/YA/AJA."

"As I teach the children of parents whom I taught in the past, I enjoy seeing how the students are similar to their parents, as well as celebrating their differences.  L’dor Vador!"

"When we moved to Atlanta, AJA’s warm and inclusive approach won our hearts. It produces kids that are confident, care deeply for others, are inclusive and very well grounded with skills to be successful. They use the Torah learning to follow their life's goals and aspirations."

"At AJA, we look after each other and make sacrifices and honor each other in the good and bad times.  I have spent 85% of my life at AJA as a student and teacher. AJA is my life."

"Our family connection to AJA started the minute we walked in the door for the first time. We felt welcomed by the teachers and staff, which led to our family feeling included and instantly comfortable at our new 'home' ”.

"Years ago, at GHA, I loved when the Pledge was recited and then Hatikvah was sung every morning. I got chills every day. We wanted our daughter to get a strong Jewish education. I am proud of her and know that her background at GHA was a beginning of her pursuit of her career."

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of storytelling. In Judaism it is in our souls to keep the stories going (and going, and going, and going!). We read in Shemot 10:2, “And in order that you should tell into the ears of your children and grandchildren…” That is one of the main reasons we repeat the story of the Exodus every year at Passover. When we recount those details at our Seder and in shul, we keep that story alive, which encourages a connection to our past and paves the vision for the future.  

In our everyday lives, it is amazing that 84% of people trust information and reviews from conversations with friends more than any other source (Nielson). Word of mouth is one powerful vehicle! As the stories of the Exodus pave the way for our future as Jews, the future of our school is inextricably linked to the stories about AJA that we tell. These AJA stories and details of your personal connection to the school are priceless. Tell a friend. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. I’d love to hear.

L’shalom,

Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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AJA Al Chet

October 13, 2016
11 Tishrei 5777

I am hopeful that you and your families had an easy and meaningful fast. Reflecting on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they were particularly special for me, as these were the first holidays here in Atlanta for the Leubitz Five. We shared holiday meals and davened with our new Atlanta and AJA community, and it was special and different and beautiful. Even though we were in a new place, it became clear to me that an amazing thing about Judaism, is that certain words and songs and blessings - whether in a home or in shul - can instantly transport you to a familiar place, regardless of where you are. When I heard the first notes of Kol Nidre on Tuesday night, I was instantly transported to the most comfortable and contented place. My heart was full and I soaked in all the beauty and awe of the holiday.

On Yom Kippur day, when we began the Al Chet (on account of this sin), I was very reflective - as many of us are. As we were reciting the 44 statements which bring us to the heart of the mistakes we’ve made over the year, I recalled that it is actually an alphabetical acrostic. The lines begin with the sequence of alef-bet. I’ll bet you are wondering “why”? It’s in that order, because this served as a memory aid back in ancient days before we had a printed siddurim (prayer book). When I was reminded of this, here was my train of thought (please, bear with me for a minute).

Al Chet > alef-bet > ABC’s > educating our children > AJA

I started thinking that we could have an Al Chet for AJA, focusing not on mistakes or sins, but the opportunities for growth. Let’s imagine an AJA Al Chet

In our community, we can be better at:

  • - Highlighting our areas of growth opportunities to the right people who can help us grow and change.
  • - Being patient with our children, and with children around us who perhaps need extra focus or attention. Remembering that the success of our children is inextricably linked to the success of the class as a whole.
  • - Understanding that we are all growing - even as an institution.
  • - Inviting others to our Shabbat tables, not only the people already part of our own inner circles, but those who are not.
  • - Showing up. Being present. Engaging with our children. Learning with them. They want and need to know that we are listening.
  • - Demonstrating to the children the respect it shows to arrive early vs. late to events. Getting them to school on time, and not detracting from instruction time.
  • - Speaking positively about other schools and shuls, highlighting what they are doing “right”, even if it is not how we do it at our school or shul.
  • - Embracing the diversity in our community and allowing it to unite us instead of divide us.
  • - Serving as ambassadors for AJA, spreading the word of the great education and community we offer here.
  • - Having faith in the process, and in the educators who are working with our children every day.
  • - Engaging in conversations with and around our children that are rich in middot (character).
  • - Letting the Head of School know you are reading his emails. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!
  • - Asking our children specific positive questions about how they demonstrated middot, and not “Interviewing for Pain”.
  • - Attending school and community events with our children to demonstrate to them the importance of involvement.
  • - Showing appreciation to our incredibly hard-working PTSA, by volunteering with them and registering for the wonderful events they organize.
  • - Following the “who to contact” protocol at the school, starting with the teacher before elevating any questions or concerns.
  • - Identifying what is really on our minds, not complaining about the peripheral issues, and having the patience to let the problem resolution occur.
  • - Taking the extra minute to say “thank you” to the people in our personal and professional lives who are making an impact on us and on our children.
  • - Encouraging our children to look around them, and see those classmates or peers who are alone - and work hard to include them.
  • - Committing to not judge a book by it’s cover. Digging deep, getting to know a person and understanding who they really are before creating a label for them or judging their level of Judaism.
  • - Unplugging. Limiting screen time for adults and children and making time to be Panim El Panim פנים-אל-פנים (face to face).

For all these, G-d of pardon,
pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.   
ועל כלם אלו-ה סליחות, סלח לנו, מחל לנו, כפר לנו.

This may seem like a lot to consider. But...here’s the good news. Even though Yom Kippur has ended, we have more time to make these important changes. The sages teach that while the gates seem to close at the end of Neilah and the sound of the shofar seals them for another year, the gates don’t actually close until the end of Sukkot. If you have more to add, I encourage you to send them to me. I would love to hear your Al Chet for AJA or for your own family.

 

 

 

 

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Imagine...by Rabbi Ari Leubitz

 

August 26, 2016

13 Av 5776

 

Can you imagine…?

 

  • Being excited about the future

  • Being inspired by the depth and breadth of our staff

  • Being the top Atlanta Jewish Day School

 

No need to imagine -- it’s time to Reimagine AJA.

 

At AJA there is an energy in the air as we get ready for the school year as a partner in each child’s Jewish journey.

 

In the same way that we will watch the growth and changes in the children, we are delighted to share with you some significant changes at AJA.  My vision, as we Reimagine AJA, is to continue positioning ourselves as a highly competitive college preparatory Jewish Day School that is fiscally responsible to our board and families, while offering an outstanding progressive education for all our students.

 

To achieve this, changes are underway! From renovations to new construction, hiring talented faculty on both campuses, and announcing the addition of three accomplished staff members whose focus will be to assist in bringing the vision to fruition.

 

It is with great excitement that I introduce to you:

 

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In Operations: Mark Dingmann / CFO-COO

 

Mark will be focused on the operations and business side of the school. Mark brings an extensive business and financial background to the AJA family, and was the perfect choice for this role, His charge is to Reimagine Operations, and to drive efficiency from a fiscal perspective, leading to a positive impact on how we allocate each and every dollar. Mark will insure that all of our school resources are aligned properly, so that we are accountable, as an academic center and as a business, to meet our vision. It’s imperative that we add extra focus to the operations and fiscal piece of the puzzle.

 

In Marketing: Barrie Cohn / Director of Marketing and Communications

 

As we began to Reimagine AJA, we needed a dedicated resource to launch us on the path to be the most recognizable day school “brand”. We are focused on working to bring our families a clear, concise, dependable communications policy focusing on all things AJA. We recognize that we live / work in a fast-paced, pressure filled world, so it is a priority for us that we remain mindful of your time. Our goal is to share with you in the most efficient way all the exciting things at AJA! Barrie will be creating an overarching communications / marketing plan as well as a new and improved website as we work to Reimagine AJA.

 

In Admissions: Erica Gal / Director of Admissions

 

Along with these changes in Operations and Marketing, came the need to Reimagine Admissions. Erica’s role will be to continue placing AJA’s roots far, wide and deep into the greater Atlanta community, as well as nationally. She will be the face of admissions, nurturing connections with current and encouraging new families to join us. Erica’s passion and enthusiasm for Jewish education, as well as her personal experiences as an AJA parent, provides an authentic perspective to prospective families. She will provide an extension of the AJA brand - genuine, welcoming, nurturing, inclusive and approachable.

 

We are energized by all the changes, I ask you to come and see for yourself. Our doors and emails are always open. An important piece of our vision is to keep the communication flowing and open, so we want to hear from you.

 

The countdown to school begins. We cannot wait to see the children soon as we Reimagine AJA!

 

 

 

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