By Mrs. Sandi Swerdloff, SSLI Lower School Principal


Friday, January 5, 2018

January 05, 2018
By Sandi Swerdloff, Lower School Principal

Dear Schechter Families,

Click for additional photos

Welcome back from what I hope was an enjoyable week spent with your children and your family. Our students walked into school Tuesday morning and without missing a beat they picked up exactly where they left off when they left school on December 22nd. They had smiles on their faces, they were talking excitedly about their vacations and it seemed as if they were genuinely very happy to be back to their usual routines.

We started the morning by getting together in the gym for Havdalah. I know it must be my imagination, but I felt like the children's voices were stronger and more intent than usual. The fourth graders led us in prayer as the Havdalah candle was lit, the wine was tasted, the fragrance of the spices was inhaled and the final blessing that distinguishes Shabbat from the rest of the days of the week was recited. We conclude every Havdalah with Eliyahu HaNavi and Shavua Tov.

It is always such a pleasure to walk into our building after a break. The floors are polished, and everything looks more vibrant than it did before we went away. The children's art and written work that is proudly displayed on the bulletin boards appears brighter and beckons us to look closer.

Speaking of bulletin boards, I would like to share an interesting story. Right before vacation, I was walking down the hallway and noticed the bulletin board outside the fourth grade General Studies classroom. Hanging on the board were wonderful five-paragraph essays, beautifully typed with color photos that enriched their stories. I started to read these well written stories, and was amazed at how beautifully each one captured a special event in the authors' lives. I asked their classroom teacher, Ms. Lindsey Schwartzman, to share how this project began and here are her words:

"The students were told that they were going to write about a special time or event in their lives. They began this assignment by identifying the purpose for writing a personal narrative and then uncovered the components of writing a quality personal story through discussion and reading samples.  They were then asked to brainstorm a list of ten personal stories that they hold close to their heart.  Once their lists were complete, students were asked to circle their top three.  As a class, they decided that it's probably best to pick topics of which they have the most memories or ones that occurred most recently or events they felt they would never forget.  Once their topics were selected, they began the writing process.  They learned the importance of writing a strong topic sentence and introduction.  The students spent several days perfecting their introductions and "hooking" their readers.  Then, they moved on to the body paragraphs which included specific moments and conversations.  The students wrote their personal narratives using effective techniques, descriptive details, and clear, sequential events.  Some personal narratives included siblings being born, Bar Mitzvahs, when the family got a pet, special family vacations, and even first-time baking experiences.  The children wrote their stories and typed them in the computer lab and were extremely proud of their accomplishments. This was just the first five paragraph essay they wrote and there will be more as the year progresses. The students realized the amount of work that goes into quality writing and how important it is to write about personal experiences and share these stories with friends and peers. Learning about the experiences of others through reading can help us better understand people and the world around us."

Right before the winter break, former Schechter parent Jonathan Stern visited fifth grade to discuss a special project for Israel which is near and dear to his heart. Thirty-eight years ago, Jonathan served in the Nachal. While in Israel, he was "adopted by a woman, whose name is Nirit Keder. Today, Nirit lives on Moshav Amikam and is the mother of four. Her oldest son served in Oketz and her younger son is presently serving in Tiranoot in the Nachal. 

Jonathan came to school to speak with the fifth-grade students about ski masks he purchased to send to the soldiers serving in the Israeli unit, Oketz. This unit trains army dogs, and the masks will help keep the soldiers warm during the winter months and cool during the summer months. After listening to Jonathan speak, the fifth grade has taken on the responsibility of writing letters to the soldiers to show their support for the Israeli soldiers. We are hoping that the soldiers will write back so that we can have ongoing communication with them. Throughout the year, the fifth graders will also take on the responsibility of collecting tzedekah money which would be used to purchase necessary supplies to send to the soldiers in this particular unit. 


The theme of this year's READ-A-THON is "Read for 20 CHAI". All children are being asked to read at home every night for 18 minutes and ask their families and friends to make a pledge in increments of $18 for two organizations that focus on ending hunger; MAZON and NO KID HUNGRY. 

MAZON works to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel. This organization founded NAHO (National Association of Hunger Organizations) and participates in several other anti-hunger and interfaith coalitions. It also works in close collaboration with interfaith agencies of all denominations to advocate on behalf of hungry families nationwide.

NO KID HUNGRY is working to end child hunger in America by connecting kids to effective nutrition programs like school breakfast and summer meals. This work is accomplished through the No Kid Hungry network, made up of private citizens, government officials, business leaders, and others providing innovative hunger solutions in their communities. These partners work together, implementing solutions that break down the barriers that keep kids from healthy food. The No Kid Hungry campaign works to shine a national spotlight on the crisis of child hunger in America, creating a powerful movement of individuals committed to bold action.

More information about the 2018 READ-A-THON will be posted as we get closer to January 22, 2018.

In closing, I want to say that as I was writing this week's Friday letter an incredible email arrived from Debbie Picker that I want to share with our Schechter Community. Debbie is still in Florida and will be there for quite a while until she and her family can begin to sort out the details of her family's most tragic events. I know that everyone wants to do something, and I know that we will, but right now we must respect Debbie's wishes that at this moment in time, she cannot begin to think of how we can help. Please take a minute to read the Facebook post below which was written by Matt Levin:

"New Year's Eve 2018 will stay with me.  Probably forever.  Around 10:30 pm, my 17-year old son, Jakob, texted me to say that two friends of his from Ramah Darom and USY were killed in a plane crash in Costa Rica.  Lights went out. If you look at Judaism as a Time's Square sign, filled with billions of lights, it's a little darker right now. Two families, the Steinberg's and the Weiss', each engaged in the fabric of their community's Jewish experience, lost in a tragic accident.  This one hurts.  Like when we hear of the 19-year old soldier in Israel killed by terrorists, or the

19-year old local teen killed by the ravages of opioid abuse. Lives lost. Generations lost. Links between the past and the future are broken.

Leslie and Mitchell Weiss, doctors by profession, were dedicated Conservative Jews who by all accounts were teaching their children by example.  Leslie was engaged as a senior leader of their Conservative Shul in St. Petersburg and they were raising their children, Hannah and Ari, to understand their role as a link in our Jewish continuum.  

I went to bed sad but not knowing the depth of this hurt.  I woke up to my social media being filled with heartfelt accounts from these kid's friends, community leaders, Rabbis and of course my own child's deep pain in trying to make sense of this tragic loss. He and his friends spent the day yesterday consoling each in South Florida but connected through FB, Instagram and other social media to kids in Miami, Broward, Tampa, Palm Beach, Orlando, Jacksonville, Atlanta, the list goes on how far geographically the mourning process goes.

Hannah and Ari were Ramah Darom through and through.  Summers spent learning Ruach, Torah, friendship, loyalty, water balloon fights, young love, all of it.  USY gave them both the opportunity to learn leadership skills, to be a beacon onto others, to be both student and teacher of Jewish values.

Mind you, I have never met either child or their parents. And yet, I meet them every day.  My son and his friends are Hannah and Ari and Hannah and Ari were all of them. If one more person tells me how we are losing the fight on college campuses or young Jews don't care, I will be impolite. I will be harsh.  There is an answer. Redouble our efforts to make sure that Hannah and Ari's short, brilliant lives as Jewish activists and leaders will serve as a reminder that the great Jewish experience is still going on.  That we must invest in Ramah, USY, NCSY, NIFTY, Young Judea, BBYO, Colman, the entire list of worthwhile organizations and when possible, make Jewish education possible for anyone who wants to go, can go, to a Jewish Day School.

The next few days hundreds, if not thousands, will mourn these people whose lives were taken far too soon.  My son and his friends from Ramah and USY will feel, for maybe the first time in their young lives, a sense of loss so painful it truly hurts. I know I will do my part to ensure that the bright candle of Jewish continuity will continue to provide opportunities for Hannah and Ari's legacy to be one for the ages."

May the lives of Mitchell, Leslie, Hannah and Ari Weiss be forever in our thoughts and may the Jewish light they began continue to illuminate the Jewish communities of the world.


Shabbat Shalom,


Sandi Swerdloff
Principal, Lower School
Posted in January 2018


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