The When is Now.

March 15, 2018
28 Adar 5778


Dear AJA Community,

L’shana Tovah!

Please let me explain…(before you think that I am losing my mind and confusing the upcoming Pesach holiday with the Chaggim!)

In the world of Jewish Institutions, in a sense, right now is our High Holy Day Season. It’s the time of year when we look at our fundraising numbers to set our budget for next year. Many of you have already given to our school - and we are so grateful. Friends, you know that I RARELY use my Thursday Thoughts for an “ask”. Well, today ... I am.

In our weekly Torah portion, Parashat Vayikra, Torah delineates all of the voluntary offerings we give to the Temple. When referring to the donor of a meal offering, we learn that it is a person of average means who makes this particular sacrifice. It is fascinating and meaningful that instead of using the word for man  אָדָם‬, here the word nefesh נֶפֶשׁ‬ (soul) appears. This word choice indicates that Gd viewed the offering not as from a physical person, but as a sacrifice from his SOUL. The Torah gives great significance to one who is of typical means and yet, still gives, regardless of his concern that he cannot give more.

Please know that regardless of the amount - every single gift you make to AJA is important and cherished, as it comes from the soul. Every one of you makes a difference.

At AJA, we know:

...every child deserves the best Hebrew, Judaic and General Studies curriculum rolled into a culture of respect, Jewish values in a nurturing and inclusive community - in a way that only AJA can provide.

...even though AJA is not the biggest institution, we have a clear vision and an amazing team of leaders, faculty and staff - and our school is growing. (did you know that many grades are already at capacity for next school year?!). our children a Jewish Day School education is imperative for the continued growth and strength of Jewish Atlanta.

If you have not yet participated in our Annual Fund...this is my ask:

Please join us and give until it hurts a little bit. It has not been easy (understatement of the year!) to merge two schools with extremely different histories and cultures. Financially speaking, we are well on our way to our campaign goals. Our hamish (cozy, warm, inviting) little AJA with our very small infrastructure for development and marketing - has hit the $1.1 million mark, nearly at our lofty $1.5 million goal.

“If I am not for me, who is for me; and if I am (only) for myself, what am I. And if not now, when?” – Hillel, Pirkei Avot, 1:14

The “when” is now.

Todah Rabah!

Click below to participate:

  • AJA Annual Fund     video      information      This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.      give
  • Jerry Siegel Legacy Golf Tournament         sponsorship
  • Tribute Journal                     tribute journal

Thank you from the bottom of my heart and nefesh for your support and generosity to our incredible AJA. We couldn’t do it without you.


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

Ps. If you are unable to contribute financially, but want to participate, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.with me and we can discuss some non-financial ways to get you involved!

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A Cause Fair Contest!

March 8, 2018
21 Adar 5778


Dear AJA Community,

Each year in our Upper School, an incredible program takes place. Literature teacher Dave Byron (2015-2016 Recipient of The Martha Sanders Teacher of the Year Award!) charges his Upper School British and Contemporary Literature classes to select and research a topic - it is an extremely meaningful project that the students are passionate about!

Eighteen students participated in the Cause Fair last Tuesday and presented to a room filled with their peers, parents and faculty. They fielded questions and were judged on very specific criteria created by Mr. Byron. After the presentations, the top 4 presentations were selected by faculty and students.

I’m proud and honored to present to you the students who were voted the “winners” - Kol HaKavod to…

  • Esthey Cohen “Hazing: Is it Worth it?”
  • Caroline Garfunkel* A Recipe to End Malnutrition”
  • Zoe Sokol “16 and Married: Child Marriage in Developing Countries”
  • Yitzi Zolty “Holocaust Denial”

Now we look to you, our AJA Community, to be involved in selecting our Community winner. Share our nachas! Just wait until you see these impressive presentations HERE.

Vote for what you believe is the most compelling presentation - one that truly resonates with you and pulls you in. Being the “why” guy that I am...your vote is cast by telling us “why” you want that particular video to win.

  1. Enter your “why” HERE on our Facebook post     OR

  2. Click This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view email us with your vote  (if you are not on Facebook!)

I also wanted to share the list of ALL of our talented and passionate students who participated:

Alex Cohen / Helping Me Manage Learning Disabilities in the Classroom • May May Cohen / DACA - Keeping the Dream Alive • Noa Dan / Social Isolation of Children with Disabilities  • Sam David / Homework: Sometimes Less is More • Esther Freitag / Misconceptions of Mental Illness • Ben Glinsky / Racially Unjust Marijuana Arrests • Nathan Grodzinsky (honorable mention) / Fitness Misinformation • Nate Linsider / Epilepsy: Symptoms, Risks, and the Lack of Education • Josh Mermelstein / Fuel for Food • Lielle Porat / Felon Disenfranchisement  • Oron Porat / Recidivism: The Never Ending Prison Cycle • Nittai Shiff / Net Neutrality: The Battle for the Internet • Nachum Silverman / Remember Our Vets: The Neglect of U.S. Veterans • Pase Zeiger: Smartphone Addiction

Voting will end on Friday, March 23 and the winner will be announced before Pesach. Again, we are beyond proud of our Upper School students, and I just had to share this with you.

We appreciate your connection to our school, and I look forward to reading your reasons “why” you cast your vote for our student videos.


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

P.S. *Caroline Garfunkel started her research on malnutrition, and she didn’t stop when her presentation was complete. She is starting an AJA food drive “Blessings in a Backpack." Students can bring in their chametz and donate this food to a good cause, rather than simply throwing it away. Caroline will be delivering these blessings to Cedar Grove students who live on the school meal plan. Brilliant idea - filled with middot and chesed! And, as Caroline reminds us, her Food Drive connects to this week’s Parsha, as Bnei Yisrael was so excited about giving to the Mishkan that they went above and beyond for the cause. Keep your eyes opened for details of how you can participate. Kol HaKavod, Caroline! 

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Revelations from Israel - Part 2

February 22, 2018
7 Adar 5778

Dear AJA Community (and beyond),

Earlier in the month I shared the idea of how meaningful it was to come together in Israel - to engage, connect, learn and grow with so many leaders of our Atlanta Jewish Community. As I mentioned, I strongly believe that a precursor to any work we can do on our small pieces of our AJA Community, and then ultimately the overall Atlanta Jewish Community is to recognize that we are all mishpacha - family.

I’m here to tell you, that although the concept of treating each other as family is not works. In Israel, we put all of our cards on the table. No topics were off limits, yet we approached them with respect and consideration for each other. This simply does not happen enough - in our own homes, in our community, in the world. We have become conditioned to be “kind” and “politically correct (PC)”. We don’t ask people how they stand on political issues, we don’t ask who they people vote for, we don’t question the way that people connect with Judaism. We have (especially in Atlanta with lovely Southern Charm) the inherent need to be polite and not stir the pot.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree 100% with kindness and the idea of being PC...I just assert that we can do both of those while also challenging each other and asking the tough questions. We need to start the tough conversations in our individual Jewish circles, which will hopefully lead to asking them in bigger circles, and ultimately the Atlanta Jewish Community.

In Israel, we discussed the future of Jewish education in Atlanta, the importance of creating that sense of belonging, how to connect with Israel, how we can make Jewry relevant for all Jews...tough stuff, eh? I believe that in order to drill down to get the answers, we first have to ask the questions boldly and find the “why” (my favorite word!) When you get to the “why”, you get closer to the emotional and intellectual reasons that you believe what you do.

Of all the tough questions we discussed, I want to focus on one: “Why Be Jewish?”. We live in a generation where we all need purpose. Our children have a need for meaning-making (interpreting situations, events, objects, or discourses, through the lens of previous knowledge and experience). Our view of Judaism is based on our own experiences and connections. We must allow our students to create their own “Why Be Jewish?” narratives through experiential and intellectual work. To understand and articulate one’s passion for and connection with Judaism, we need to discuss and debate it (with kindness and respect). There is no quick answer to the question.

It’s a challenge to put into words the feelings we have about “Why Be Jewish?”. It’s an emotional connection that is hard to communicate. Think about how it feels to share a Pesach Seder with your family, to light the Chanukiah together and share light with the world and to have a meaningful Shabbat experience. How can you possibly put those feelings into words for someone else - whether they are Jewish or not? Some things just need to be experienced. It is only after these intellectual, personal and experiential connections where we can formulate our own reason “why”, that we can we start the conversations and debates.

My pledge is to keep asking the why, to keep challenging our AJA community to face the hard questions, and to continue engaging one another in a meaningful, accepting and kind manner. And, if you want toThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.your “Why Be Jewish?” with me...I’d love to hear it.

PS. [switching gears to groggers and hamantashen…]

Parents, Grandparents, AJA Friends - if you want your family name included on the PTSA Mishloach Manot baskets, click HERE to participate in this Purim Mitzvah.

AND, don’t forget to RSVP for the fun-filled Upper School “Purim Night Live” show and dinner on 2/28!


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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Revelations from Israel - Part 1


February 8, 2018
23 Sh’vat 5778

Dear AJA Community (and beyond),

I’m back from what was a most meaningful trip to Israel. To say I’m still floating on the clouds would be an understatement. I keep replaying moments, discussions, debates and connections from the week - and I find myself smiling. (Note...if you want to skip right to the insights from my trip - scroll down to the photo!)

When the Federation invited us to join this Community trip for Atlanta area leaders, I wondered how this incredibly diverse group of us would interact. Each of us came from very different places - geographically, religiously, spiritually - and yet we were heading to Israel together to tackle the problems and challenges facing Atlanta Jewry. How do we create a community of belonging? How do we overcome the challenge of so many unaffiliated Jews? How does American Jewry connect with the very different/complex/political Israel Jewry? These are but a few of the intense challenges we dove into. I’ll elaborate on those another time, I promise.

As you see from the questions above, we have some large challenges to address. It’s always so interesting how relevant the Parsha is - and how the timing is so often perfect. Let me explain. 

Last week, in Israel, we read Parsha Yitro - in part about how the Jewish people received the Torah (or more precisely, the Aseret HaDibrot - the 10 principles or utterances). That is where we accepted the brit or covenant. A covenant is like the signing of a contract. Both parties commit themselves to do something in the interest of the other party. It was our peoples’ first step, namely to accept the sacred charge and to internalize it. 

Last week, our team of 70 accepted our charge while in Israel. We accepted our “covenant” to enter our week-long work by being present, setting aside any preconceived notions and engaging with each other with curiosity, candor and grace. 

This week, our Torah portion - Mishpatim - deals with laws and behaviors that manifest from the covenant we have accepted. The continuity with last week’s parsha is seen with the opening words of Mishpatim “and” these are the laws (Shemot 21:1). 

This coming week, our team of 70 will now continue its work to wrestle with the big questions.  We do this work to assure that we keep Atlanta Jewry something special for the next 50 years.

The connection between these two parshiyot reminded me that first we must have our own covenantal clarity, purpose and revelation. We need to accept upon ourselves our Jewish covenant, a sacred purpose. Only after that can one (and collectively) understand what our responsibilities and obligations are. This leads me to…Revelations from Israel Part I.

My first “aha” moment in Israel.
We were all coming into this trip from very different places - literally and figuratively. There were some moments that were tough. We didn’t leave a stone unturned - we raised every challenge, issue and dream we have for the community. Difficult private and public conversations that lead to heartfelt, respectful, challenging and uplifting discourse. Can you imagine having a slew of Rabbis and Leaders from across all shuls and institutions each offering their opinions and views? Oy vay - sounds like a recipe for disaster and ego-clashing, yes? It was the exact opposite of that. When we engage directly and focus on what unites us - not on what divides us - that’s when the magic begins.

As Jews, we all shared the Sinai experience and are all charged with the same sacred mission - to bring G-d’s light into our community and our world. We all connect and rally around this one basic goal. I was overwhelmed with this realization as to how blessed we are as an Atlanta Jewish Community - the institutions, resources and the people we have in our midst - it was a profound moment for me. To continue strengthening and growing the Atlanta Jewish Community, we simply cannot do this alone. We need to engage each other, understand each other, be a light unto each other before we can be a light unto other nations. 

Regardless of where we each are on our Jewish Journeys - we are mishpacha (family). We are not simply a people with a shared history or shared goals - we are connected. We are committed to Jewish values. We are a community. There is a reason why we each feel personal pain when any Jew is a victim of terror, when there is a struggle amongst Jews in Israel. There is a reason why we take immense pride when an Israeli wins an Olympic Medal. It’s in our DNA. We are connected with one another - we are mishpacha!

We talk at AJA about being a Committed. Connected. Community. Sitting in Israel, with this incredible mix of folks, it was so clear to me that the Committed Connected Community is not only at AJA...but should be an overarching goal for the entire Atlanta Jewish Community. We are mishpacha and need to engage from a place of inherent love and respect for one another. When we interact, we need to assume the best and engage one another with grace and curiosity and trust that we are all committed to the same end result. We need to continue creating relationships all across Atlanta without judgement of that person’s Jewish Journey. There is no journey or accomplishment without true connection and understanding.

I am grateful to the Federation for having the foresight to propose this trip. I’m not sure it would have worked in many other cities! I’m not sure it would have worked in many other cities! Our Atlanta community is unique and yet inclusive - there must be something special about the leaders in our city to allow this trip to happen and for it to be so successful. We in Atlanta share some of the DNA of our overseas mishpacha - our Israeli brothers and sisters - who truly believe they can solve any problem or challenge. 

I plan to stay on these clouds for one more beautiful Shabbat. I am ready to celebrate what unites us - our Committed. Connected. Community - in the contours of our sold out AJA Family Shabbaton. I look forward to seeing so many of you there! It’s going to be a special time together as an AJA Mishpacha.

And, in other soon as the AJA Family Shabbaton comes to a close, I will leave my perch up here in the clouds and head back down to reality. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Revelations from Israel...



Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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Innovative Inclination

January 25, 2018
9 Sh’vat 5778



Dear AJA Community,

I have an innovative inclination. I love to imagine what could be, and (as you know) I am always asking “why?". On some level this is what brought me to AJA - the opportunity to innovate and build something new. I don’t mean the physical merging of two schools or the physical building of an upper school wing.  I am referring to building a 21st Century independent Jewish Day School guided by modern orthodox values and principles. A place that infuses Jewish values into all aspects of our Jewish Community. A place with deep relationships in our Atlanta Jewish Community, regardless of affiliation, level of observance, background - a cholent of sorts. To serve as the leader of this fine institution is beyond an honor.

There are two types of leaders. One who imposes or leads with their vision, or one who emerges from within the culture, crystallizing what the people need into a vision. When Moshe was leading the people out of Israel, it was this top-down approach. You can see this throughout Chapter 2 - Shemot. However, this was not what the people needed to enter the land of Israel. They needed to be part of the process. Moshe actualized the four stages of redemption vi’hotzeiti ... vihitzalti... vi’ga’alti... vi’lakachti (and I will take out ... and I will save ... and I will redeem ... and I will take them to me as a people.) For the fifth and final stage of redemption— vi’heiveiti (and I will bring them into the Land), Moshe identified that he needed to step aside so a new leader could emerge - who understood the deepest religious, spiritual and intellectual needs of the people.

I am not telling you this to announce that I am stepping aside as Moshe did - I’m just stepping (actually flying) over 6,000 miles to head to Israel for an incredible trip with other leaders from the Jewish Community. The “Front Porch Community Israel Trip” is designed to bring all corners of the Jewish community onto the “Front Porch” to help map our future.  I applaud the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta for setting up this trip - a gathering of 70 Atlanta Jewish Leaders, heading to Israel to be inspired as it approaches its 70th birthday.

Over this week-long trip, we are going to ask the big questions. How can we have a strong “living bridge” between Atlanta and Israel in these times? What is needed from us as leaders in Jewish Atlanta? How can we strengthen the partnerships among our various groups, shuls, and schools in the community? How can we innovate to grow and prosper in an American social marketplace that has seen declining rates of religious connections? I. Cannot. Wait.

Next week, there will be a break from my Thursday Thoughts. When I return, I will share with you some specifics of what will surely be an incredible experience. I am excited to bring these insights and new perspectives back to AJA.

As I will have limited access to communication, please refer to the “who to contact” list if you have any questions. If a matter is urgent or private, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.who will be able to reach me.

For the next week, my innovative inclination and need to ask “why?” will be constantly fueled and encouraged. I simply cannot wait. And, being able to do this work in Israel...that’s just the icing on the cake.

Ps. Have you registered yet for our 2nd Annual Family Shabbaton? Space is limited, and you won’t want to miss out!


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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Time to Reenroll!

January 4, 2018
17 Tevet 5778


Dear AJA Parents,

Welcome back! This chilly morning was surely a ton of fun for all of you - the first day waking your children up early since December 21. (I completely get it, believe me!) It is great to have everyone back together! As we face the upcoming months of the current school year, we also have our eye on next school year.

It’s reenrollment time, my friends.

This is an easy opportunity to cross something off your busy “to do” list. As you know, the reenrollment deadline (with a deposit of $650 per child) is January 8 - this Monday.

Why It’s Important to Reenroll Before the Deadline:

  1. Our Incredible Faculty and Staff. We aren’t a huge corporation - we are a school. Having an accurate enrollment count for next school year is imperative. Once we know our student count, we can build our 2018-19 budget. Once we have our budget, we can provide our wonderful and talented faculty with their contracts as early as possible. This is important to me, our entire administrative team at AJA, and is greatly appreciated by our teachers! The sooner youreenrollthe sooner we can get our teachers their contracts. It’s that simple. It is an act of chesed (kindness) and kavod (respect) toward our teachers, for you to reenroll online before the January 8 deadline.

  2. Flexible Tuition dollars are first come first served. Once those funds are depleted, we are unable to award any additional tuition assistance. You must apply for Flex Tuition by January 8!

  3. Some of our classes are filling up for next year. Once the January 8 deadline passes, anyone who has not yet reenrolled will be placed into a wait pool with all other applicants. We don’t want your child to lose their spot in the class! This is another big reason to reenroll today.

If you have specific questions, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.(Admissions), This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Technical Support) or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Financial / Flexible Tuition). And, you can always reach out to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

During this frigid weather, here’s a great way to stay this great article about the importance of a Jewish Day School education, grab a cup of coffee, sit in front of your computer and reenroll your children before the Monday deadline!


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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The Year in Review...

Dear AJA Community,

One of the things I love about Jewish life and the ebbs and flows of our calendar, is that it always gives us opportunities for reflection, discussion about what is really important to us as a people and as Jews.

My plan is to use this upcoming break to reflect on the first half of the school year. It’s always a joy to look back at what was amazing, and I also will note what needs additional focus for the second half. Here’s a recap into what we’ve done up to this point. Anything you want to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.?

Catch a Glimpse ● College Night ● 1st Grade Surveys ● ECD Reading Buddies ● Curriculum Cafe ● Upper School Clubs ● 2nd Grade Math Night ● Bring a Friend to School Day ● Daffodils Project ● Donuts and Davening ● Upper School Move-in Day ● Whole School ECD - 12 Oneg ● AIPAC Schusterman High School Summit in D.C ● Dancing the Torahs into the Beit Midrash ● Jaguar Games ● Ribbon Cutting and Dedication ● 1st Grade Colonial Festival ● 3rd Grade Havdalah ● 7th & 8th Grade Science Fair ● AP Labs ● 6th Grade Eclipse Lab ● School Wide Eclipse Event ● 8th Grade Camp Ramah Eclipse Trip ● Lower School Gardening ● US Curriculum Night ● Mailman Visits Ganon ● Parent Toolbox Series ● L’Chaim  ● New Teachers ● US Meat Club Shawarma Lunch ● AP Physics Bridge Building ● Boys Wrestling ● Jaguar Jems Car Wash Fundraiser ● 8th Grade Roller Coaster Competition ● Service Learning ● Flex Time ● Beekeeper ECD Visit ● Hypnotist at US Shabbat ● Shabbos Dancing ● US Cholent Bowl ● 10th Grade Chemistry Lab ● Boys & Girls Basketball ● Portfolios & Pizza in the Sukkah ● Girls’ Chagiga Rehearsals ●  Sufganiyot ● Evening of the Arts ● VIP Day ● All School Chanukah Celebrations ● Community Time ● 4th Grade Hebrew Song ● New Grade Facebook Pages ● 8th Grade Scavenger Hunt ● US Chanukah Chidon ● 8th Grade Amazing Race ● Winnie the Pooh KIDS ● 6th Grade Claymation Project ● US Makerspace 3D Printing ● 5th Grade Math Games ● Dreidel Competition ● ALL AJA Drone Photo ● Friendship Walk ● US at Berman Commons ● ECD Thanksgiving Feast ● US Maccabiah Games ● 6th Grade Engineering Lab ● Israel Yeshiva & Seminary Visits ● Gan in the Sukkah ● Ganon in the Garden ● Butterfly Garden ● US Civil War History Trip to Stone Mountain ● Club Kef ● Rosh Chodesh Davening & Celebrations ● Simchat Torah Celebration ● MS Boys Soccer 5x Champs ● New Chemistry Labs ● Birla Carbon Field Trip ● 3rd & 4th Grade Grandparents Day ● LS Junior Chorus ● US College Visits ● Student Musicians at Evening of Arts ● Model UN Conference ● B’not Sherut Programs ● World Kindness Day ● World History Field Trip to Carlos Museum ● Girls Volleyball ● 9th Grade Escape Room Trip ● US Chanukah Mesibah ● New US Grade Deans ● Social Justice Field Trip ● Maimonides US Basketball Tournament in Boston ● Guest Speakers ● Buddy Oneg

`These are just some of the wonderful things we’ve done since school started in August. As I reflect, I encourage you to share your input with me and the Instructional Leaders for your child’s grade. Please feel free to share what worked and what you think needs additional attention.

When we return in January, we’ll have our longest educational run of the school year, with minimal breaks. We can all use this time to recharge, rest and rejuvenate to conquer the last half of the year!


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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Chag Urim Sameach!

December 14, 2017
26 Kislev 5778

Dear AJA Community,

Chag Sameach! Chanukah is underway. The dreidels are spinning, the gelt and latkes are a’ plenty … oh, and there is the beautiful light. The light I’m referring to is not only the beauty that emanates from the Chanukiah, it is also the light I see all around me everyday at school.

In the spirit of Chanukah, and the concept of sharing light with the world, here is some of the light that has been shared at AJA over the year.

My Chanukiah:

1st Candle - Students. At this time of year, I am grateful for the gift of our children being fully-immersed in Judaism - they live, think, talk, see, taste and soak in all that it means to be Jewish. I am constantly amazed at their growth and the middot and social-emotional growth I see in them.

2nd Candle - Faculty and Staff. The heart and soul of this school. These talented and incredibly hard working folks turn this building into more than a physical structure. They transform it into a home for our students to embrace their General and Judaic Studies education, connection to Israel and appreciation for our culture.

3rd Candle - Parents, Grandparents & Families. As I’ve said before, the lessons we teach about chesed and connection must not end at our front door. I’m grateful for the parents and grandparents who continue those lessons at home - and who partner with us and share special school events and programs with us to show their support for the school and their children.

4th Candle - Administrators. These folks are a bit behind the scenes, and they keep the school running like a finely tuned machine. They are here day and night to support all that we offer at the school. I feel fortunate to work closely with such a talented team. I would be lost without them.

5th Candle - Volunteers and PTSA. It’s a thankless job, I know! You all have spent countless hours helping teachers, speaking to classes, chaperoning events, preparing challahs, creating teacher appreciation days, etc etc etc! Most do not know who you are AND we couldn’t do this without your help!

6th Candle - Our Donors. A private school cannot run on tuition alone. We rely on the generous support of you, our donors (including our faculty, staff and parents!) to allow us to offer this depth and breadth of classes and programs. The generosity of our angels leaves me - at times - speechless (and that is no easy task!)

7th Candle - Our Board of Trustees. Another thankless job! The hours are numerous and...we are lucky to have a committed and very diverse group of Board Members who are so dedicated to AJA.

8th Candle - The Community. Outside our building and behind the scenes, there are a slew of organizations and groups, Rabbis and congregations who we have worked with to continue creating our committed connected community. I’m grateful for their support.

Thank you for sharing your light with us!

May the lights of Chanukah bring happiness to you and your family!  חנוכה שמח

Chag Urim Sameach!

Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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The Halls Are Buzzing...

December 7, 2017
19 Kislev 5778

Dear AJA Community,

Yesterday’s announcement about Israel holds great historic significance. As a school that is pro-Israel, it’s a powerful recognition of our National and religious narratives and hopes. In our hearts and minds, Jerusalem has always been at the center of our Jewish world, and the epicenter of Jewish and spiritual life in Israel.

I’m also aware that there is a larger geopolitical context to this. I hope and pray that this change of policy announcement does not become a catalyst to violence or bloodshed. I hope that we can continue on a path of discussion and compromise for a meaningful and peaceful relationship with our neighbors. And together, to work toward a positive common goal and to bring to life the vision of the verse from Isaiah:

כי מציון תצא תורה ודבר ה` מירושלים

For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Right here in our AJA halls, significant things are happening. Visually, artistically, musically, creatively and even culinarily there is a lot happening at the school over the next week. Many of my favorite school programs and events are happening and I just have to share.

All grades have worked on age and developmentally appropriate creations for tonight’s Evening of the Arts. Please be sure you read the descriptions our Art Teachers created for you understand the reasons “why” they had their students work on each specific project. The Homburger Commons will be filled with this art and the proud faces of the children who designed the pieces.

With next week being the start of Chanukah, the halls are buzzing with the sights, smells, energy and excitement surrounding the holiday. Outside of the classroom, the lessons continue. We celebrate with activities and events that serve to strengthen the students’ connection to our history. The ECD has its annual family celebration on Friday; the Lower School will enjoy Bingo, an Israel @ 70 activity, games and sufganiyot-making. (save me one, please). Our Middle School will have Maccabi style dodgeball and races, games, activities with our B’not Sherut and sufganiyot-making. (ok, you can save me one). And last but not least, ourUpper School will celebrate with a photo contest, Student Cholent Bowl competition, Chanukah dinner with entertainment and Sufganiyot(fine, if you insist...I’ll take one of those, too.)  

Our students are preparing for some musical moments over the next week. I walked down the ECD hallway and heard music coming from various classrooms, in preparation for Grandparent and VIP Day on Friday, and for next week’s Chanukah celebrations and performances. Turning the corner, the students in our school musicals “Winnie the Pooh” and “Mary Poppins” and our Junior Chorus can be heard rehearsing for tonight’s Evening of the Arts performances. Down the Upper School hallway, the Girls’ Chagiga is hard at work on fine-tuning the music for their video trailer to showcase their original play. After a final turn, I reach the 3rd Grade hallway. Now I hear the sweet tunes of those students singing their hearts out with their Hebrew and Judaic Studies teachers to prepare for Havdalah this Saturday at 7:45 pm.

I think Havdalah is one of the most meaningful rituals in Judaism. It creates a hard line between Shabbat and the new week ahead of us - a division between the sacred and the everyday. Havdalahmakes us stop, reflect and savor. Did you know that Havdalahrequires us to use all five of our senses? We taste the wine, smellthe besamim (spices), see the candlelight, feel the warmth and hear the blessings - all combined to make Havdalah such a special mitzvah.

This week at AJA, all of our senses are certainly being engaged! I hope you will join us at one or more of these special programs we are hosting at the school.



Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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An Incredible Annoucement

December 1, 2017
13 Kislev 5778

Dear AJA Community,

It’s always a joy to be the bearer of good news - and to share an early Chanukah gift with our AJA family. (Ok, did I get your attention?) This Thursday (ish) Thoughts is a little delayed, as we had some final details to iron out before I could share.

Athletics play a vital role in our school. Not only for the crucial physical benefits, but also for the important lessons learned from sports - team building, empathy, dedication, commitment and chesed (towards teammates or opposing teams). I’m proud that we utilize AJA Athletics as not only a physical outlet, but as another opportunity to educate the “whole child” - including the social-emotional-ethical lessons we impart to our students.

Even though we have a gym, Imagination/ECD playgrounds, and ninja-warrior style Playground near our Soccer Field - there has been a void. Yes, I’m referring to Phase 2 of our Capital Campaign - a new Athletic Center near the US Building.

This new center has always been our goal, yet we wanted to insure that we were proceeding with 100% fiduciary responsibility. I am pleased to announce that we are now ready to proceed with Phase 2, as this project is now totally self-sufficient and will not have any impact on tuition, our operating budget, or our Annual Fund. We are confident that this endeavor will not rely on funds from other sources, other than the monies pledged, and will only enhance AJA's facilities, lead to opportunities for the school and appeal to current and prospective families.

Construction on our new Athletic Center will begin early next year! I am proud and beyond excited to say that thanks to a consortium of generous donors and AJA supporters, we have already reached OVER 75% of funds needed to build and maintain the new Athletic Center for our ECD - 12th Graders. (Toda! Toda! TODA!)

Pending final bank approval, the Athletic Center will be a valuable addition to our school, and I’m honored to announce that it will be named for a Woman of Valor who loved our school and was adored by all who knew her. 

The new Vivian Zisholtz z”l Sportsmanship Center will embody and encourage all of the values that were so important to Vivian. Barry and Vivian’s four children are GHA/YA alumni - she loved this school. Vivian knew the importance of athletics for team-building and sportsmanship - she also believed that all children deserve equal opportunities. To immortalize Vivian, the Center will be used for athletics, wellness, community service programs, and other AJA Community programs that bring her values to life. We also plan to connect with other schools and entities who are unable to provide space for their own programs.

We know Vivian would be proud. And, we hope you are, too! If you’d like to read more about Vivian, click HERE.

As this is an AJA Community center, we welcome your input. Do you have ideas of ways we can utilize this new Sportsmanship Center? Any specific programming suggestions such as a wellness area, healthy cooking classes, Occupational Therapy, yoga, etc? Please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any feedback or ideas.

I can imagine that you have questions, so HERE are some answers.

Looking forward to seeing all of you in our incredible Vivian Zisholtz z”l Sportsmanship Center!

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It's My Turn

November 16, 2017

27 Cheshvan 5778


Dear AJA Community,

It's my turn.

I’ve watched and participated in the many simchas for AJA students. I’ve been there for the morning Torah readings during davening with the proud parents looking on. I’ve witnessed the shpilkes they all feel on Shabbat morning before their child steps up to read Torah and lead the service. And now, it’s my turn.

This Shabbat, my little girl will become a Bat Mitzvah. I am excited for her, as she takes the next step on her Jewish Journey. However, Florence and I are also filled with some bittersweet of our babies is becoming an adult in the eyes of Jewish Law. It’s a day we have thought about since her birth, and at her naming at our shul in Riverdale, NY. It’s a day that is an important milestone in her life as a Jew.

I am grateful for the Jewish Day school education Aviva has received at incredible institutions, especially AJA. My daughter has gained knowledge, commitment, a strong Jewish identity and a responsibility toward the community and Israel. We couldn't be prouder. I am thrilled to mark this moment of achievement and to take time to stop and smell the roses.

This Shabbat is not simply a marker of a year’s worth of study and practice but 12 years of an educational and spiritual journey. In 1st Grade, she received her Siddur. In 2nd Grade, she received her Chumash. In 5th Grade she began learning Mishna and this year, she learned how to read Torah. Her Jewish education has not only been about “the books”. It’s about the middot, the empathy, the chesed, the learning to know right from wrong and the nurturing of a loving, caring, inclusive community - that has been a huge piece of her journey. It truly does take a village (and, p.s., your child is also on this journey and is receiving these same gifts!).

[Taking “Proud Parent” hat off, and putting on “Rabbi” Kippah]

A Midrash from this week’s parsha comments on the nature of the family connections in the lives of the patriarchs.

“The crown of the elderly are their grandchildren, and the glory of sons is their fathers.” [Prov 17:6] Fathers are a crown to their children, and children are a crown to their fathers. Fathers are a crown to their children, as is said, “and the glory of sons is their fathers”; and children are a crown to their fathers, as is written, “The crown of the elderly are their grandchildren.”

The idea conveyed here is the other side of a deeply-rooted and widely-quoted Rabbinic concept of zekhut avot, namely that we merit and are shaped in part by our ancestors. This midrash has me thinking a lot about the reverse - What will I impart to my children and beyond? What is ultimately my role as a father? How do I parent and live day to day, while keeping my focus on what is really important and the big picture? Although she will become a Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat, Aviva will still continue on this journey for years to come (and so will I!). This is just the beginning of what we hope and dream will be a meaningful and fulfilling journey for her and we recommit to do our role as parents and community members.

But, enough about my perspective. You read that every Thursday! I wanted to have the Bat Mitzvah share HER perspective with you. So...Aviva, what’s on your mind?


Aviva Leubitz:

A week ago it all became real. I’m honestly not nervous yet, but I’m sure I will be on Friday morning! I’ve been studying my Parasha with my Dad, in preparation for me to read on Shabbat. Since I’m reading in the afternoon, my portion is Parshat Vayeitzei. The Shabbat portion is also relevant to me, because it’s about journeys, and I’ve been on a lot of journeys. Since I was born, I’ve lived in New York, Los Angeles, Oakland and now Atlanta. My life has been a journey!


I’ve been thinking about the new obligations as a Bat Mitzvah. I am going to continue lighting Shabbat candles every week and also keeping my eye on Hachnasat Orchim (inviting guests). Why did I choose those? Once you become a Bat Mitzvah, I feel that you need to start lighting candles weekly. When we moved here last year, starting on my new journey at AJA, I was SO nervous. People here were so nice and inviting to me and now, I want to do that for others.


I know you’re expecting to read my D’var Torah here. My parents and I hope you’ll join us at Young Israel of Toco Hills this Shabbat - and you can hear it in person!


Thanks to my daughter for sharing her words with all of us.

We have another Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat. Please read Adam Berkowitz’s D’var Torah HERE, and join me in wishing Adam and his family Mazel Tov, as he becomes a Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat in Israel.



Rabbi Ari Leubitz


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The Mensches in Our Halls

November 9, 2017
20 Cheshvan 5778


Dear AJA Community,

Any idea what an AJA 7th Grader has in common with Avraham?
Did I get your attention? Keep reading...

In Pirkei Avot, we learn that Gd tested Avraham with 10 trials, to gauge his loyalty. They were not easy trials - including leaving his homeland, famine, Sarah being taken by Pharaoh, battle with kings, estrangement from his son and the ultimate - the binding (sacrifice) of Yitzchak. He, of course, passed these tests with flying colors. But, it was not easy!

Thankfully, none of our students have dealt with battles and binding...however, one in particular was tested and, like Avraham, pushed and persisted and persevered. When Jemima Schoen carefully selected her Mitzvah project, little did she realize the challenge it would be to complete it. Jemima’s Great Uncle is a highly decorated 37 year Air Force Veteran who served multiple tours in Vietnam. Her connection to, and appreciation for our military, made it a natural choice for her to select a mitzvah project directed at our soldiers. For veterans in the local VA hospital, Jemima put together HERO packs, bags filled with various items that the soldiers could use. Her classmates and friends from AJA gathered in August to fill 50 bags to deliver to the hospital.

Assembling the bags was the easy part. After repeated calls and visits since August (her very own 10 trials!), Jemima was face to face with a huge obstacle. No one from the VA hospital was receptive to her mitzvah, and wouldn’t answer calls or multiple requests to deliver the bags. Jemima could have thrown in the proverbial towel, but, instead kept pushing and exhibiting her dedication to this project and to the mitzvah of a gift to the Veterans.

So, what happened next? If you watch CBS46 tonight at 11 pm, you’ll see the resolution to her story in the segment “Better Call Harry”. Jemima didn’t give up - and her mitzvah project was so well-received that she and her classmates assembled HERO packs again today. We are so proud of her, and all of our 7th Graders! 

At AJA, we are not only focused on the academic success of our students, we also pride ourselves on helping to develop your mensches who walk these halls. You can see examples of middot and chesed in our students every day, and it warms my heart. This is one of the components of our school that I feel so passionate about - and Jemima’s story is just one example to illustrate this.

As we just completed Parashat Vayera (the end of Avraham’s trials), and Veteran’s Day is only days away - this seemed to be the perfect story to share. Kol Hakavod, Jemima!

And we hope to see all of you at our New Building Community Ribbon Cutting this Sunday at noon!


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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L' chaim!

November 2, 2017
13 Cheshvan 5778



Dear AJA Community,

This past Sunday, we had our amazing L’chaim event in our new Upper School building. As I prepared my remarks for the evening, I went back and forth as to how I could sum up all of my thoughts about how we are finally all under one roof - in a way that I haven’t already shared. That was not easy. I knew that in that Beit Midrash, I’d be surrounded by a wonderful group of our AJA Community who already know the value of a Jewish Day School education. They often sing our praises and we are grateful for their support in so many ways.

As I racked my brain, I figured out that I could talk about how we are finally one Committed Connected Community. Nah. I could have talked about the excited Upper School students as they witnessed turning a beautiful room into the Beit Midrash with the dancing in of the Torahs. I’ve already done that. I could have talked about the generations of students that have walked the halls of YA and GHA and now have their children andgrandchildren at AJA. Ooh, that’s a good one, but been there. Done that. Although these are all important points, that room of folks had heard all of it before. Here I was, the week of the event, and I still didn’t know what to speak about.

So, when in doubt...look to the Torah. And so I did.

I wanted to dig deep and find out when the Jewish Day School movement actually began and who its founder was. That seemed to be something that most folks wouldn’t know about - and my instincts were spot on! I’ll save you the research, and you can see the answer with just one click HERE to watch an abbreviated version of my speech at L’chaim.


Have you seen our photos from the night? For a great view into L’chaim, take a glance at our photos HERE.

Special thanks to everyone who made the new Upper School building and the creation of our ONE AJA a reality. And thank you to those who were able to join us at the L’chaim event - it was a wonderful evening with our community, and I look forward to many more. Remember, “Our Future is Now!”


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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The Tightrope of Parenting

October 26, 2017

6 Cheshvan 5778

Dear Parents,

I have the most vivid childhood memory.

I was 8 years old, and my Mom took me to an amazing amusement park. Being the incredibly mature and responsible “big kid” that I honestly thought I was, I wanted to walk in the park by myself. I didn’t need my parents there, I didn’t need them to baby me. Little Ari could handle this, right? Well, my Mom acquiesced, and the next thing I knew, I was walking all alone and it was amazing. After about 10 minutes, I remember looking around for my Mom, and there she was...close enough, yet far enough away for me to feel that independence I craved. In hindsight, and now as a parent, I am CERTAIN she had all eyes on me at every moment, yet I didn’t realize at the time that I was being chaperoned. (She’s a Jewish Mother, you think she actually let me walk alone?)


Isn’t that the dance we do as parents? We want to hold tight, yet we know we need to let go so our children can flourish, learn from mistakes and gain independence. It’s a tightrope, a delicate path, we hold on, we let go, we hold on again. OY! The parenting literature I’ve read also seems to do that dance between being a helicopter parent, blessing their skinned knees and allowing what author Lenore Skenazy calls “Free-Range Kids”, which essentially means to let children roam free.


I’m personally not a fan of the Free-Range concept. I assert that it gives our children too much autonomy. It allows these adolescents to make choices that are perhaps not in their best interest, or not for the right reasons. Recently, one of my daughters (who will go unnamed!) told me that she they didn’t want to participate in an activity. After some digging, I learned that it was because a specific friend wasn’t participating. She would have missed out on a special opportunity, had I allowed her to make the choice in free-range style and resort to “group think” (taking a page from Alan Minsk’s playbook: “Google It”).


This week in Parsha, we encounter the first of our patriarchs, Abraham. The Rabbis view his life as one of a series of tests:


“Avraham was tested with ten trials and he withstood them all.

This demonstrates the extent of Avraham’s love (for Gd).” (Avot 5:4)


Abraham manifests his love for Gd by doing what Gd asked of him. So too, as parents, our job is to create a relationship of trust and love with our children so that they have faith in what we say even when they disagree with us. Perhaps our greatest test as parents, is to recall that just as Gd pushed Abraham in the right direction, so too we as parents - at times - need to make choices for our children to keep them headed in the right direction.


I had an interesting realization last week as I walked with a prospective family who was touring the school. There were 5 people on the tour - including parents and the students - as we see on most tours. That stayed with me. Here we are, an AJA family, and we invite these new families into our school with open arms. We don’t just welcome the child, we open our doors and encourage the entire family to join our community.


I noticed that one student commented on the sports trophies in the hall, the other was in awe of our theater. The parents, as expected, were more focused on the Academics and faculty/student ratios. That resonated with me - the importance of balance between what we as parents want for our children and know what is best for them, and what they want for themselves. I loved the dialogue between this family as they each highlighted what they liked the most about AJA and had an interactive and open conversation.


And then, the Mom summed it up for her children in one sentence: “This is definitely a family discussion, but it’s a parental decision”. No free-range parenting here. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the brain doesn't finish developing and maturing until one is mid- to late-20s. Our teens base their decisions on their current world at that moment and their “group think”. At the end of the day, studies show that a teen’s brain is not developed enough to make worldly decisions. This Mom clearly got that memo.


Back to “Little Ari”- I now realize that my Mom gave me the sense that I had total control and autonomy, while all the while she “had my back” and her eyes never left me for a minute. If I had started to make a wrong turn or head in a bad direction, I have no doubt my Mom would have stepped in to guide me accordingly.


Our faculty and staff all have our eyes on your children. We are here to help them flourish, learn from mistakes and gain independence in this academic setting. I’m grateful for this school and feel so blessed to be a part of this family - not only as your Head of School, but also as a parent!






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Etz Chayim at AJA


October 19, 2017
29 Tishrei 5778

Dear AJA Community,

Nothing worth having comes easily.

Nothing meaningful or transformational comes without preparation.

As I looked around on Tuesday morning at approximately 11:15 am, that is what I kept thinking.

I walked from my office and headed down to what used to be the “hard hat zone”. All that covered my head this Tuesday was my kippah. As I approached the Upper School, I almost expected to hear the sounds of hammers, drills, saws and machines - but they were now thankfully replaced with an (equally as noisy, but much more pleasant!) orchestra of voices in our Student Commons. Our 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th graders were all receiving schedules for their new room assignments, adding books and personal items to decorate their lockers, posing for pictures, hugging, embracing the day and celebrating this exciting new chapter in their AJA journey. It was truly our committed connected community right before my eyes.

This didn’t happen overnight. This didn’t happen easily. But thank G-d (and so many of you!), it did finally happen. We have an incredible new building to elevate the 21st Century learning experience for our students, and we are using the building as we dreamed. The joy I saw on the students’ faces is beyond words. Some of these photos will help illustrate what I mean.

After lunch in the Student Commons, the orchestra reached the crescendo. Rabbi Hoch, Rabbi Houben, Rabbi Lerer, Rabbi Travis and I danced the Torahs into the new, incredible Beit Midrash. Students sang, danced and celebrated. The warmth, excitement and connection was evident as Rabbis, teachers, students and faculty were all there for the same reason - to see the transformation of this beautiful room into a meaningful place infused with Kedusha (holiness- our AJA Upper School Beit Midrash. (Click the photo below for an incredible video)


As it reads over our hand sculpted wooden Aron Kodesh (ark):

                          עֵץ־חַיִּ֣ים הִ֖יא לַמַּחֲזִיקִ֣ים בָּ֑הּ  
It is a tree of life for those who grasp it

“For those who grasp it” refers to Torah. When one engages with it, it will enrich one's lives. Torah helps us grow spiritually - individually and collectively. Like a tree needs water, attention, food and light, as Jews we need need Torah to be nurtured, for us to grow and thrive.

AJA is like a tree. We will continue to grow and flourish with care and your involvement. So much has been done behind the scenes to develop the roots of the school. It is incredible to see our new branches begin to grow. When our children flourish - that is the blossoming of our tree. Schools, like trees don’t grow overnight. And like the leaves and flowers, it takes time for the school to blossom.

I encourage each of you to engage, support and connect - to share your stories of nachas and achievement at AJA. Just like the Torah is a Tree of Life for those who grasp it, our school is the future for our Jewish community and the vehicle for our children to grow. We must grasp and support it.

This month and next there are ways you can connect with and support our school. We hope you can join us on 10/29 for our Annual L’chaim Event, where we will officially dedicate the new building. It will be an evening of connection and celebration and you won’t want to miss it. Next month, on 11/12, the Community Ribbon Cutting will start at 12:00 noon at the new Upper School entrance and lead right into a day of Family Fun for all ages on our new field at our Jaguar Games. We welcome you to join us at these special events at AJA!

Our tree of life at AJA has grown incredible new branches this week, and we are so grateful. It was worth the wait!


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5778 AJA Al Chet

September 28, 2017

8 Tishrei 5778


Dear AJA Community,

I trust that you and families had a meaningful Rosh Hashanah. I treasure the High Holidays, particularly the days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, for a number of reasons. For one, it is a period of introspection and of asking “why”? (big surprise coming from me!) Why we do what we do? Why are our values the way they are? What is truly important to me and my family on our Jewish Journey? We start to ask ourselves the big questions, and that makes this period of the Chagim especially important to me.

In my eyes, the purpose of halacha (Jewish Law), it is to give us moments in time to be reflective, to help us recall what is really meaningful. It only takes a quick “click” or login to any news site to see that as a country we, sadly, have a long way to go. What I do know, is that when we take on problems that are overpowering, we become paralyzed. So, instead, we can take on that which is in our control - modeling middot for our children, holding each other accountable to respectable and honest communication, and only then are we continuing to grow a model community.

During this time of reflection, I ask: what are the areas that we (myself included!) should take stock in, reflect on, and improve upon? Like any good educator, I encourage that we don’t focus on the negative, and instead focus on opportunities for growth. So now, as it is my annual tradition (now 2 years running!) 5778 AJA Al Chet.

As a community, can continue to focus our attention on:

  • Stretching our gratitude muscles by reaching out to those who are deserving of thanks

  • Being present for each other, not only when the chips are down

  • Taking time to converse with and include people we don’t know well

  • Reading our school emails (please and thanks!)

  • Loving our teachers

  • Reaching out when challenges are percolating...before they boil over

  • Giving each other the benefit of the doubt

  • Engaging the source of the problem and not intermediaries

  • Celebrating our successes as a new school community and sharing our AJA stories with others

  • Remembering that anything we put on social media is seen by everyone

  • Turning off the “screens” and talking more amongst ourselves

  • Articulating to our children why fostering a love of Torah and Israel is crucial

  • Embracing the tension that exists in living within an inclusive, nurturing community

  • Celebrate that we are the most diverse Jewish Day School in Atlanta - a badge of honor

  • Giving our time and energy to causes outside of our Eco Chamber

  • Building relationships with more Atlanta institutions

  • Finding opportunities to engage with our senior community - they are our history!


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.

Wishing you and your families an easy and meaningful fast.





Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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The AJA Cholent

September 11, 2017

10 Elul 5777


The Jewish Community in Atlanta has such a rich and storied history that Hebrew Academy, Greenfield Hebrew Academy, Yeshiva Atlanta and now Atlanta Jewish Academy have been a part of since 1953. We are so proud of the threads we helped weave in the fabric of the past and present, and are poised and excited to be a part of the future of Atlanta’s Jewish Community. As Atlanta continues to become a destination for Jewish families it isn’t just the southern hospitality that is so welcoming, it is the history and connection that Jews feel when they join the Atlanta Jewish community.  


Thinking about our AJA community and the diversity at the school, it reminds me of a Shabbat cholent. Our AJA cholent boasts a blend of various “ingredients” in our community (Israeli, modern orthodox, conservative, secular, South African, Zionist...) all blended together to form a cohesive, inclusive “stew”, or as we like to call it - our committed connected community.  Each ingredient can stand alone, but when combined with the becomes even more robust and delicious!


Not only is AJA a cholent, but the Atlanta Jewish community overall is one BIG cholent. We are proud to be but one of many ingredients, and, as such continue to seek out ways to partner with other groups in the city - that is a priority for us. To impact the community as much as we can sets the best example for our students and ourselves, and is and always will be an important part of our mission.


As a committed connected community, we will continue to be an active part of Atlanta’s Jewish Community - past, present and future.




Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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The Arts @ AJA

August 31, 2017
9 Elul 5777

Dear AJA Community,

As I drive around town braving the infamous Atlanta traffic, there are many days that I notice something different in my travels. Maybe it was a tree that I had never noticed, or a street sign with the name of an old friend. Either way, those always catch me by surprise, and I take notice. The same realization happens in the halls of AJA - I’ll often notice new artwork in the halls that I either hadn’t previously noticed, or perhaps a new creation.

In Judaism, Art/Symbols and Music specifically have significant roles over our history. It is not by accident that Rabbis place emphasis on singing zmirot (songs) around the Shabbat table as we celebrate together. The singing helps crystallize the moment, create memories for us all, and also bring us together. During Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the prayer Nusach (prayer melody) changes - to help awaken us spiritually and emotionally and brings us back to various times in our lives where we sang these same melodies. Music inspires us in our service of G-d and is a powerful tool of connectivity. It is also an important part of our school culture, whether in music class, musical theater performances each year, the weekly Upper School Shabbat dancing or the monthly Lower/Middle School Onegs.

At AJA, the Art on the walls tell a story - which was one of my goals when I first came here last summer. I want any family who walks into AJA, to “get us” and understand our story and culture before they even set foot in a classroom. It’s not just the photos of students on the walls, it’s also the deep history of our school displayed in our hundreds of alumni photos in the class composites. (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we’ll be happy to share a photo of your class composite with you!)

In addition to the photos, have you noticed the artwork that adorns each of our hallways? Some pieces are special gifts to the school, and others are from the generations of our student artists, past and present. Truly, there is a living testament to our student’s work inside and outside the classroom.

Symbols and Art are inspiring and stir our emotions as Jews. Seeing a star of David, a hamsa, a beautiful view of the characters inscribed in the Torah, unique Judaica and even a mezuzah reminds us of our deep, rich history and the visuals that are such a part of the Jewish people.

So, what is the role of Art, Music and Musical Theater at AJA, you may wonder? In his book “Arts with the Brain in Mind” Dr. Eric Jensen says “The Arts enhance the process of learning. The systems they nourish, which include our integrated sensory, attentional, cognitive, emotional, and motor capacities, are, in fact, the driving forces behind all other learning.” (Jensen, 2001).

You’ve heard us talk in the past about being a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Music) school. We are now focusing on being a STEAM school and adding “Arts” to the equation. I believe the Arts are important for our children to have the holistic education we strive to provide. A school that is preparing our students for 21st Century Collaborative Learning needs to be one that fosters not only memorization, reading and writing, but also the creativity and ultimately problem-solving. One that encourages application of knowledge, which shows a higher level of learning and understanding.

To bring this all to life, I am pleased to introduce you to our outstanding Arts faculty and staff. Click to read more about this talented group:

Kendra Fabry (Art)

Alison Todd (Art)

Marian Harrison (Music)

Simonie Levy (Theater)

Andrea Slomka (Theater)

As you can see from their bios, each brings a passion to their field and that has already carried over to the students. WIth this team in place, along with some exciting enhancements: our upcoming new Makerspace, new full-scale Upper School Theatrical performance, new AJA Junior Chorus, AP Art track and additional Music Theory curriculum, we are grooming our students to be creative-thinkers, using their expression to articulate and persuade using their own self-expression. It’s what our history leads us to do!


Wishing you a beautiful Shabbat, filled with much music, art and symbolism.


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

P.S. Join me at Young Israel of Toco Hills on Wednesday, September 13th at 7:00 pm. I'll be speaking as part of their Lecture Series, featuring "AJA Educators!"



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Time Is a Precious Commodity

Thank you to all of you who shared with me your contributions to Houston, in response to my email. The ideas included the US Environmental Club collecting items to ship to Houston, students “dressing down” to bring in funds (over $200!), and even a lemonade stand where our students raised $83! I’m organizing a relief trip to Houston, please let me know if you are interested. Also, click HERE for details on a community collection of items TOMORROW, from our neighbor, Chabad of Atlanta.

For the people of Houston, time is probably moving so slowly. They are counting the milliseconds until the after effects of the horrible storm passes. Time is such a precious commodity, as it either moves too fast or too slowly depending on the context! This idea applies to our school as well. In some moments, time is flying! We’ve done so much in our one year together. Over this next school year, there is so much more I want to accomplish together, and I know that I can’t do it all as fast I as I would like. This is such an exciting time for our school...we are moving full steam ahead with so many exciting announcements coming down the pike, yet we need to be deliberate and smart, as this will take some time to build the AJA of our dreams.

Today, I’d like to focus our attention toward the Upper School. Time has indeed flown by! In the Spring, I shared my vision for the Upper School which included General Studies courses, integrated Judaic Studies program, electives, art/music/theater, makerspace creation, STEAM, Strategic Learning, etc etc etc!John Wilson is leading the charge to make this all happen, and with his Leadership Team of Rabbi Allan HoubenRabbi Jeffrey FrancesDr. Pam MasonCherise Ogle, Joel Rojek, Elizabeth Schoen, and Naomi Whiters along with the incredibly dedicated teachers - I couldn’t be happier.

One of our first events for the Upper School is the Curriculum Night, on 9/6 at 6:30 pm. The Upper School team has planned the evening and the school year methodically! The event is a great way to hear directly from John and the US faculty and staff about all the great behind the scenes happenings. Click HERE to read more, directly from our Head Instructional Lead of the Upper School, John Wilson.


We also would like to extend an invitation to all 7th and 8th grade parents to join us on 9/6. Your students will be AJA Upper School students in only 1 or 2 short years. Come and hear more about the trajectory your children are on, and how it all comes together in the Upper School!

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Standards That Connect Us

August 24, 2017
2 Elul 5777


Dear AJA Community,

I’ve written a lot about unity and connection - about inclusivity and being a school for all Jewish people. I always go back to something wise one of my Rabbis used to say: “I am a Rabbi to ALL of the Jewish people, and my practice is Modern Orthodox”. This holds true for me, as well. I am so proud of the diversity at AJA, and the committed connected community we have built and are continuing to build.

I thought of this diversity during the incredible eclipse we all shared on Monday, as I was staring up at the the sky in awe of what was unfolding. How could I not be thinking of the massiveness of the world and the beauty of G-d and the Universe? I wonder what all of you were thinking of as you experienced this phenomenon?

As I glanced around at this diverse group of our AJA students, families, faculty and staff staring up, I began to think about how many people were all staring up at the Heavens at the same time. For those precious moments, all of our diversity, differences of opinion, drama and trauma in our world just dissipated. We all just looked up. We focused on what connects us and not what divides us. It was magical. Each of us stepped out of our own day-to-day thoughts, and truly saw the big picture. Sometimes, we tend to hone in on the minutia, or things that may not be as important as the “big stuff”. Yet, we agree on much, agree to disagree as needed, and strive to focus on inclusivity.  

One approach that can help create inclusivity is the creation of standards. It is important to always reflect on our practice, staying true to our values. We have several policies and protocols that we’ll be addressing and navigating through over the next few months to create consistency and transparency across ONE AJA. I believe that creating standards can foster love of Israel and connection to all of our fellow Jews. When we review our standards, some of the processes may be interactive discussions. I do recognize that culture and habits are often emotionally-charged and often difficult to change. I promise to enter these discussions with humility and understanding. Some review of standards will be decisions, and I will share and articulate the “why”.

One of those decisions is around the enforcement of the kippot policy in our building. As an educator, I believe that we need to live by example and model respect by demonstrating it to the children. As a Head of School, I believe that we need to offer an inclusive community to all of our families by creating a safe, welcoming and accepting space. It is important, in that context, to set a standard of asking all Jewish men who enter our building to wear a kippah, headcovering or hat (as long as it’s not a Patriots cap!). This is not a religious statement, it is a standard, and one that, quite frankly, we’ve had at our school for years. All of our Jewish male students and teachers, from Pre-K to 12th grade are expected to follow this standard, and we are asking all Jewish male parents and guests to do the same. We will have “bulk” satin kippot up at the front for those of you who need to borrow one while in the building, or you can buy the beautiful AJA knit kippot from our front office.

Why? The tradition of wearing a kippah is a custom in Judaism as a sign that we acknowledge and respect that G-d is above us watching over us. In Talmudic times, the practice of wearing a headcovering was reserved for men of great stature. In later generations, though, it became customary for all Jewish men to wear a kippah at all times, and especially during prayer. It has become a reminder to us of respect for each other, G-d and the community we are all included in. We view wearing a kippah as an important symbol of respect for the place, and not as a religious statement about the individual wearing it.

This is not a standard to divide us, it is to connect us. We all felt that incredible connection to the heavens and nature during the eclipse. Each of us went to a different place of reverence during the phenomenon. Those type of moments are so rare. Wearing a kippah as a standard in our AJA halls is but a simple reminder to us that G-d is above us, every day, not only when the moon eclipses the sun.


Rabbi Ari Leubitz

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