One of my favorite parts of Sunday School is our break time.  Weather allowing, we take all of the kids outside to the courtyard for some fresh air, hanging out with friends, and old-fashioned fun: sidewalk chalk, bubbles, jump ropes and wholesome snacks.

This morning, I was watching a group of girls as they stood in a circle and took turns encouraging each other to blow the biggest bubbles.  One young lady grabbed a bottle, dipped the wand, and blew quite hard, resulting in only some wet soap drops.  After repeating this action about 3 or 4 times, she handed the bottle to another girl and declared, “these bubbles don’t work“. Her classmate dipped the same wand, and produced a beautiful, large masterpiece.  “Well, they don’t work for me” was the response.

I called the child over to me, and handed her the bottle of bubbles again.  I urged the reluctant girl to try a different method – and, finally, with a much more gentle blow, she produced a few small bubbles.  With a big smile, she tried again and again until she blew the most beautiful, enormous bubble of the day!

All of our students are bright and eager to produce perfect work.  Often, we forget to take the time to teach them how to learn…to encourage them and build up their confidence to try again.  For some, it comes easily; others need to discover a slightly different approach.  A little analytical skill, gentle encouragement, and patience will eventually produce the desired results.

It is a delight to watch our children as they discover their potential.

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First Day!

I love the first day of school!

During the week before school starts, I think that we ALL have the jitters:  kids worry about new teachers and increased workloads; parents worry about schedules and kids who are whining about new teachers and increased workloads. Teachers worry about new kids and new curricula.  And I worry about, well..everything!

Then the first day is here – much too soon.  I toss and turn all night worrying about all the details.  Are the teacher’s ready?  Will the kids hate us?  What will parents think about the changes we’ve made over the summer?  What if nobody comes?

But as soon as the very first family walked into the lobby, I suddenly relaxed.  Greeting old friends and meeting new ones is a great feeling.  As soon as I walked into the sanctuary, I was almost run over by a line of exhuberant dancers: boys and girls, adults and babies, familiar faces and new!  It is hard not to at least tap your feet to the wonderful sounds of Koltrain.  The big smiles on the kids’ faces tell it all.  We’re back!

Lots of good stuff happened this morning.  Parents learned about all the work that the JJC has put into unveiling the new Galinsky Academy over the summer, and learned about our new “Community of Kindness” program.  6th graders and their parents enjoyed being introduced to the Etgar program, with help from some volunteer congregants.  5th grade families met with Hazzan Holzer for their first B’Nei Mitzvah meeting.  Classes went extremely well – and I finally got to launch our new self-paced Hebrew program.  I was so proud of my 4th grade students’ enthusiastic acceptance of this new curriculum.  Laughter in the hallways…smiles on little faces as I walk past the doors…a quick peek into the Kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms assured me that we are the best ever!

I’m not worried any more.  My Religious School family is back together, and we are ready for an amazing year.  Feels great!

I love the first day!





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An Important Message about Orientation

Dear Religious School Parents,

The staff and I are looking forward to a great year.  To ensure a smooth beginning, let me take a moment to share just a few bits of important information:

If you have not yet sent in your registration forms and/or the $125.00 supply fee, please do so before September 1st.  The remainder of the tuition costs will be billed directly to you during the school year.  Getting all of this taken care of and submitted on time lets us begin the year with full staff and supplies.  If you need financial assistance, please contact Don Kriss, our Executive Director, who will be happy to help you.  All forms and schedules can be found here.

Calendars and events can be seen on our website.  Please notice that school begins after Labor Day this year. It is important for you to join us on the first day for an Orientation, which will be held on Sunday, September 9.  We will begin at 9:00 with a lively morning service with Koltrain, our synagogue band.  A complimentary Continental Breakfast for all Religious School students and their parents will be served in the Fletcher-Selber Auditorium at 9:45.  We hope that you will enjoy meeting teachers and connecting with old and new friends.

Following breakfast, our students will be taken to classes by their teachers, while parents will have the chance to hear about any changes in our programs, meet new people in our school, and ask questions.  Speakers will include Dr. Jon Mitzmacher, Head of Schools, who will talk about our exciting merge into the Galinsky Academy.  A representative from JFCS will also explain about our “Community of Kindness” initiative this year.  We have several exciting new changes this year (read about them in my last blog!)

At about 10:45, we will ask our 6th grade parents to join their children in the library for Yom Rishon (Day One) at Hagworts, an introduction to our middle-school Project Etgar program.  5th grade students will be brought back at 11:00 to join their parents for the B’Nei Mitzvah Program that is scheduled with Hazzan Holzer.

Students will be dismissed at 12 noon as usual.

Please be certain to check in at the registration table during breakfast to receive your informational packets and other goodies!  Details about PTA, special programs and scheduling will be available to the parents at that time.  An open house will be taking place this year in October so that parents may get a chance to see teachers and students in action after they are settled in to a routine.

If you have any questions, suggestions, or concerns, please call me at 268-4200, ext. 145.  My assistant, Ivy Kfare, and I should be available every weekday, 8 am to 3 pm.  If you happen to catch us out, please leave a message and we’ll get back with you as soon as possible.

Looking forward to seeing you on the 9th!

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An Exciting New Year!

I can’t help but to be intoxicated with the atmosphere around me today, with happy sounds of Preschool and Day School getting started here at the JJC, and seeing all of our neighborhood kids as they stood at their bus stops this morning or walked, hand in hand, into their schools as I drove to work.

Although we still have a few weeks to go, I feel re-energized and ready to take on the challenges that all Religious School programs face each year:   How do we make Religious School stimulating and fun for our kids?  How do we teach so many different levels of abilities in one classroom, while still allowing our kids the maximum exposure to other Jewish children of their own age?  How do our students learn to treat each other in a Jewish and ethical way when they are tired, stressed, and hungry?

My summer has been focused on thinking “out of the box” to answer some of these questions.  This year, you will see some changes and welcome additions to our curriculum.

By the end of last spring, most of our teachers had become quite adept at using smartboards and laptops in the classrooms, and we are now ready to move to the next level with the technology that we are so lucky to have in our Religious School.  You’ll be seeing more use of new programs, multi-media communication, and global connections.  We discover new uses every day!

We thrive on our inclusive policy of welcoming every Jewish child into our classrooms as one community, no matter of their educational background or learning needs.  However, we do struggle with more academic subjects when we have such a wide variety of levels and abilities.  This year, we will debut a self-paced Hebrew reading and prayer program with our 4th, 5th, and 6th grades.  This program will be taught by a carefully picked team of teachers: Audrey Goldberg, our Special Needs professional; seasoned Hebrew teachers of all levels including Hanna Bendit, Lea Gabbay, Dave Schmerer, and Karen Morse; our Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutor Scott Zimmerman; Hazzan Holzer, Rabbi Olitzky and myself.   We are also expecting to add some great role models in the mix with our madrachim – teens who are volunteering their time to work with our younger students.   Now, students can learn together, but with the use of differentiated teaching styles, individualized plans, and ongoing assessment, we will be able to challenge every student in our school at their own level.

The Galinsky Academy is now a reality, and one of the first intiatives that all four schools together have been working on is to to create a “Community of Kindness” with Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS).  Our goal is to help us to learn how to treat each other and to avoid bullying behavior in our schools.  Please read the details on our home page.

We say goodbye to some of our teaching staff this year:  Rivka Cohen, Eta Perras, and Ronni Ticker.  We are sorry to lose them and thank them for their past commitment to our Religious school.  We look forward to increased, regular classroom involvement by Hazzan Holzer and Rabbi Olitzky.  Also new to our Religious School family is my new, enthusiastic administrative assistant Ivy Kfare, who will replace Jesse Roman and Michelle Jernigan at the BASRS main desk.  With the office in such capable hands, I will be spending more time in the Hebrew classroom – a role that I truly love more than any other!

I’m looking forward to seeing all of our  students on September 9!


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Community of Kindness

As most of you know, we have been working together at the Center to create what is being called a “community of kindness”.  This is an exciting initiative; we’ve already had one program and look forward to more.

We are still studying the results of our bullying survey (taken last month in school) – the results of the 2nd through 4th grade responses can be found on Jon Mitzmacher’s blog at http://www.mjgds.org/mitzmacher  (also, you can find a direct link on our Religious School home page, right above mine!).  He will have the findings of the larger group, grades 5-8, in the coming weeks.  We are determined to do our best to identify the needs of our students, and to act on our new knowledge, creating a kinder, gentler, and more compassionate community.

Two videos have already been made – and now it is our turn!  I’ll be making a video this week with our teachers and students and will get it on our website as soon as possible.  Here’s my challenge:  grab your camera, your flip, or your phone, and start filming!  Submit your pictures, video, or animated creation to me, and we’ll put it on our website.  Show us what your idea of a “community of kindness” would look like!

A community, by definition, MUST include all of us.  We don’t hesitate to jump in as we make physical improvements on our building and in our classrooms. Now, let’s work together to define and create an improved culture at our Jacksonville Jewish Center home.


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The past two months has been wild and crazy!  Programs galore, holidays, new curricula, sorting out children and teachers, mixed in with welcoming and blending our new families from Beth Shalom, has been an exciting challenge for all of us.

Last Sunday, I finally found some time to wander around and observe our Religious School program in action on a “normal” day.  I’m so happy to report that our students are settled in their classroom routines and there’s a whole lot of learning going on!  I was delighted to begin my day with our Kindergarteners as they enthusiastically chanted their morning Hebrew prayers together.  Later on, they had such a good time making dreidels (out of clay, of course).  Some of our kids were enjoying a brand-new parashah movie in the computer lab, while another class studied the phases of the moon as they began a chapter on Rosh Chodesh.  I spent some time in the library cheering on our 3rd graders as they played a fun game with their Hebrew letters, proudly showing off their knowledge for me!  We had two classes experiencing havdallah in the courtyard together, and 4th graders had a great discussion as they watched a video on the smartboard about IDF (Israeli Defense Force) training.  Most of our middle-schoolers were involved in the awesome Kadima sub-regional convention (held here at the JJC); all of them began their day dancing and clapping to the tunes of Shacharit LIVE! with Hazzan Holzer’s band, Koltrain.  I spent some time with two of our new 7th graders discussing Bat Mitzvah plans, and ended the morning with a demonstration of newly-learned trop and prayer skills.  Wow!  It was a thrill to witness the obvious progress that our children are making.   (Check out the video that I made – it can be found on the home page of this site.  Most of this was taken this past Sunday!)

Yesterday, I was emailed some information about a “cyber” Hebrew School program.   This is something brought to my attention every few months, either by another teacher, a parent, or a colleague.   Although I am a huge fan of long-distance learning (and spent this past summer learning via weekly webinars), I am saddened at the thought of losing the personal touch and community that our schools provide.  We are about so much more than facts and words. We learn through taste, smell, sound, and touch. My teachers provide information – and hugs as needed.  Classmates become best friends and allies for a lifetime. Our programs allow families to experience our beautiful and rich culture together.  Our synagogue provides us with a spiritual home and safe haven.

This Thanksgiving, I am so thankful for my hardworking, dedicated teachers; for our caring clergy; but I am especially thankful for the happy, busy hubbub of our school on Sundays and Wednesdays!

Happy Thanksgiving,


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L’Shanah tova u’metukah (for a good and sweet year)

We have now successfully completed the first two weeks of school, and we are finally settling in and getting to know each other.  What a great group of kids!  We have 25 new students this year – all of them are terrific and welcome additions to our Religious School family.

Now, we are entering the holidays.  Although this is always a somewhat chaotic time for all of us (to say the least!), I’ve always thought that the fact that our “High Holy Days” coming right at the beginning of the school year is actually amazing timing.  We have a few weeks to get to know each other, review and get up-to-speed, and then we are all ready to begin by celebrating a fresh new year together!

Our main goal this year is to improve our communication between school and parents.   I’m so proud of my teaching staff; they are working very hard to learn to blog so that they can keep in touch with parents on a more timely basis this year.  Our website is up and running for your convenience, with a listing of upcoming programs, PTA schedule, and synagogue events.   When available, I have ordered chapter booklets rather than entire books, so that we can send home materials as we finish each section.  This will allow parents to see what your children have done in class throughout the year.

Now I will ask for you, as parents, to also make a new year’s resolution.   Communication by definition must be a two way street!  Please do your best to check newsletters, events, and class blogs often.  Search your child’s backpack for materials sent home.  Contact your child’s teacher if there is a concern or question – before a minor situation unnecessarily escalates into something bigger!  We all need to team up to make sure that your child has a positive experience in Religious School this year.

My family and I personally wish all of you a sweet and healthy new year.

L’shanah tovah,


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