By Mrs. Sandi Swerdloff, SSLI Lower School Principal


Friday, February 10, 2017

February 10, 2017
By Sandi Swerdloff, Lower School Principal

Dear Schechter Families,

The Jewish calendar reserves one day each year -- the New Year for Trees on the 15th of Shevat -- for us to think about our affinity with trees and think about the analogies we can draw about the structure of these mighty giants and our own lives. I want to share this beautiful piece of writing about Tu B'Shevat which made me stop and think about the holiday and its spiritual connection to our lives.   

The tree's primary components are the roots, which anchor it to the ground and supply it with water and other nutrients; the trunk, branches and leaves which comprise its body; and the fruit, which contains the seeds by which the tree reproduces itself. The roots are the least glamorous of the tree's parts--and the most crucial. Buried underground, they possess neither the majesty of the tree's body, the colorfulness of its leaves nor the tastiness of its fruit. But without roots, a tree cannot survive.

Our faith can be likened to the roots of the trees. it is buried deep and is the foundation of our entire being. From it stems the trunk of our understanding, from which branch out our feelings, motivations and deeds and our commitment to God.

A soul might grow a majestic trunk, numerous and wide-spreading branches, beautiful leaves and lush fruit, but these must be equaled by its roots. Above the surface, there might be much wisdom, feeling, experience, and achievement but if these are not grounded, it is a tree without foundation, doomed to collapse under its own weight. On the other hand, a life blessed with only sparse knowledge, meager feelings and experience, and little fruit, but has extensive, deep roots is a healthy tree with the capacity to recover from the setbacks of life and the potential to eventually grow and develop into a loftier, more beautiful and fruitful tree.

The tree produces fruit, in which its seeds are enveloped by tasty, colorful, sweet-smelling juices which attract animals. Wind, water, animals and man deposit seeds in distant places to continue reproduction. When we communicate with others, we employ many devices to make our message attractive. We support it with intellectual language and emotions and dress it in colorful words and images, but this is only the packaging. If the seed is there, our message will take root in the minds and hearts of our children, and our visions will be grafted into theirs. But if there is no seed, there will be no offspring, no matter how tasty our fruit might be.

Grow Like a Tree by Sara Debbie Gutfreund

1. Let go of the past. Trees let go of their dead leaves. Evaluate whether our choices today are being made with our present set of values and beliefs or whether we are holding onto ideas that no longer help us grow.

2. Growth takes time. The greatest oak was once just a little nut that held its ground. Sometimes it seems like we aren't moving forward despite our efforts to grow. But growth is often subtle and slow. Consistency and courage nurtures our growth even when we can't see any progress. Hold your ground. One day we will reach further than we can imagine.

3. Plant today. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now. It's never too late to begin something new. Every seed we plant counts and is a gift to the next generation.

4. Give life. Imagine if trees gave off Wi-Fi signals; we'd be planting them without stop! But trees produce the oxygen we breathe. They give us life. We can also give life by teaching others what we learn, by inspiring each other and by choosing to use our resources to give.

5. Reframe darkness. Seeds are buried deep beneath the earth's dark surface. They shiver in the frozen soil, their shells break apart, leaving them open and exposed. But the seed wouldn't grow if it was cradled in the light or if its shell was encased in armor. Darkness and brokenness often surround us before we can break through the surface. Sometimes the worst moments come before the greatest light.

6. Reach for the sky. New trees are fragile. They can't reach very high. But even the smallest tree looks like it's trying to touch the sun. Reach for the sky. The higher we aim, the more motivated we will be to reach for greatness.

Wednesday of this week was truly a wonderful day covering so many different aspects of learning.                                                 

The morning began with Rabbi Joel Levenson coming into third grade for Tefila as he does each week. With the children sitting in a circle and Rabbi Levenson leading, it was such a special way to begin the day and as evidenced by the pictures below the students certainly enjoyed sharing this time together.

Click here for additional photos of Tefila with Rabbi Levenson with 3rd Grade                                                   

Later in the morning four delightful 11th grade students from our upper school came to share their Shabbat stories with our second grade students. Judaic Studies teacher Becky Friedman-Charry was so proud to have an opportunity to bring her students to the lower school and to share their creativity. The girls read their castle themed Shabbat birthday stories to the second grade students who were mesmerized as they listened to the stories about a Russian boy who learns that Shabbat can be like a vacation and a story that featured Monsters, Inc. characters. There were smiles and giggles as the children admired the illustration in all of the books and a wonderful discussion ensued about what families do to make Shabbat special. At the end of the visit, the second graders proudly shared highlights from their recent play, The Creation. It was a truly enriching morning for all.

For additional photos, click here

And last but certainly not least, the children in Kindergarten and first grade had a very special visit from Dr. Paul Chaskes and his wife Alissa to talk about dental health for children.  He spoke to the students about how often you need to see the dentist and asked them what they already knew about going to the dentist.  He explained that besides brushing and flossing using a fluoride rinse is also important.  After talking about how often they should be brushing and for how long, each student received a "dirty tooth" (a laminated tooth covered with dry erase marker) and were asked to clean it with a toothbrush.  The students raced against the clock to get them clean in 2 minutes - the amount of time everyone should spend brushing.  Next, the students were given a food item and took turns placing it either on a  happy or sad faced tooth depending on whether the item was good or bad for your teeth.  Dr. Chaskes then explained why the foods were good or not good for teeth even though they may be good foods for other parts of the body.  The students took turns practicing brushing in a circular motion, getting to the back teeth, and brushing the tongue as well. Another visitor for the day was Squirt! Squirt's teeth were definitely shiny and clean by the end of his visit to Schechter!

The students asked great questions and shared many stories of their own.  At the end of the day while packing up these were the comments heard around the Kindergarten room:
"I need to brush right away because I just ate snack"- Harrison.
 "The dentist uses things that tickle your mouth"- Noah.                                                                         
"Lemons are not good for your teeth because they are so sour"- Jonah.                                                
 "Children have 20 teeth and adults have 28"- Josh.                                                                                        
"Take care of your teeth now because when you're a grown-up you don't want to lose your teeth"- Cooper.                 "Skittles are not good for your teeth because they are not Kosher and they are sweet" Naomi.
"Mint toothpaste is not good, but the one Dr. Chaskes gave out is the best and that's what I'll take on vacation"- Jonah. 

While in first grade, Coby asked how long and how much work it took to become a dentist and Yoni expressed his excitement by sharing that his latest tooth fell out that morning.  Coby also commented that if someone loses a tooth they need to get dentures and Sabrina shared her desire to get braces so she can have the ones that are colorful. The first graders demonstrated their ability to work together and help each other to try to clean the "dirty teeth".  As they finished, they took their toothbrushes to another student's tooth and started to help them get off the dry erase marker before time was up.  Manny exclaimed, "This was fun". In both grades, students shared their enjoyment of the activities, laughing as they passed around Squirt and cleaned his teeth. A huge thank you to the Chaskes family for a wonderful experience that I am sure the children will long remember.   

For more photos of Kindergarten and First Grade learning about Dental Health, click here

The best-laid plans of mice and men...

On Friday, after a pretty hefty snowstorm, we were not able to come  into school and celebrate Tu B'Shevat with our very special school wide seder.  All students and teachers will have to wait until Monday to sit at the beautifully decorated tables and read from the Tu B'Shevat Haggadah compiled and edited by Rabbi Joel Levenson and Rabbi Yosi Cirlin. This new Haggadah is sophisticated, yet child friendly and will be sure to encourage our students to learn about Tu B'Shevat through taste, music and hands-on experiential activities.

On Monday morning with the quintessential help and support of our Parent Association, we will set up the gym and prepare the tables so that our students will have an opportunity to enjoy the seven species mentioned in the book of Deuteronomy - wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates and to taste and understand how the four glasses of wine (grape juice) remind us of the four seasons. The first cup is all white and will remind us of winter when the earth is often covered in snow. For the second cup, a small amount of red wine is poured into white to represent the pink flowers of spring. The third cup of grape juice is light red which will remind us that in the land of Israel, the first spring fruit is ripening and covers the ground like a blanket. To make light red grape juice, equal parts of white and red grape juice are combined in one glass. In the summer when the flowers are in full bloom, fields and trees give their fruit and we drink a glass of dark red grape juice to remind us of the richness of color found at the beginning of fall. In addition, I know that our slightly belated seder will be enhanced as soon as we hear the richness of the music and the warmth of the songs, which will certainly melt the snow outside.

Wishing you a warm, wonderful Tu B' Shevat weekend filled with the sweet tastes of the seven species, grape juice and wine!

Shabbat Shalom,


Sandi Swerdloff
Principal, Lower School  
Posted in February 2017


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