May 17, 2018
3 Sivan 5778
Dear AJA Community,
There is a old saying: “you are judged by the company you keep.”
The year before I went to Rabbinical School, I was studying in the shul and became aware of a student named Daniel. He was quiet, studious, and people commented on his kindness and demeanor. They often called him a mensch and he was recognized for his service to our community. I looked at him and thought - I want to be like Daniel.
I was a little tentative to approach a fellow student who was older and someone I didn’t know, yet a friend suggested that I ask Daniel if I could study with him - so I did. That day, a connection over Torah began. The studying evolved into a friendship - one that lasted over a decade. I learned much more from Daniel than I ever gave to him. The way he interacted, spoke, expressed his values and his Torah outlook made an indelible mark on me. Eventually when I got married - that which I learned from this role model had an impact on Florence and our children. Daniel had made his mark on me.
The company we keep, the people we emulate and hold as role models says a lot about who we are. I think about that particularly this week, as our tradition will unfold with our Seniors who are about to leave the AJA “nest”. Tomorrow marks a step toward commencement, when they walk through the halls of AJA (in graduation caps and tassels) saying goodbye to all of the younger students. They will start at the US Beit Midrash, and walk the halls for the ECD, Lower School and Middle School students and faculty to wish them well and offer brachot. The finale is for the Class of 2018 to see their fellow Upper School classmates lining the front walkway - as our Seniors ceremoniously head out of the school.
We created events like this Senior Walk with intentionality. Every opportunity we provide for our older students to shine and for our younger students to learn and aspire...that is crucial to their growth. We are always looking for more profound ways to have our students interact, teach and lead our younger students. Through this interaction, each one of them can learn, emulate and grow. It is for that reason we offer:
- Buddy Oneg where we team up older and younger students to learn together
Signing Day for our Middle Schoolers to see the Seniors announce their choices for Yeshivot/Seminaries and Universities
Combining 1st - 4th Grade Davening for Rosh Chodesh
“Girl Talk” where US girls connect with 8th Grade girls - one meeting they cooked a meal together for Rebecca’s Tent (women’s shelter)
Basketball and Volleyball Clinics this month where 4th - 12th Graders are playing together as a team, learning skills and sportsmanship from each other
5th Grade going to the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory with the US World History Class
Upper School Students helping with Middle School theater and Middle Schoolers helping with Lower School theater
Service Learning Days where Upper School worked with younger grades on Tikkun Olam activities
8th Grade leading the younger students in the Purim carnival and Lag B'Omer Color War
and the list goes on...
Our children are so fortunate to look up to these individuals - true role models and students they can emulate. These graduates are outstanding human beings. After Graduation on May 30 (we hope you can join us!), many will be giving back and learning about Israel during their gap year, then heading off to what is an incredible list of colleges. These are students who will undoubtedly give back to the Jewish People and the world.
This week, we began reading the book of Numbers (Bamidbar). There is so much we can say about numbers and counting in this parsha. On a simple level, what we know is that to count people as a number is to strip them of their uniqueness and personal identity. Perhaps, sadly, this is one reason why the Nazis used numbers on Jews. We understand that each of us has godliness, and something unique to offer to the world, and to the company we keep. Our job as a school is to help nurture our children to find and appreciate their own uniqueness - at every age.
This Friday, our Upper School students will again show the other students what they can aspire to be as they grow and what they can give back to the younger students. For the rest of their lives, we want our students to uphold the values of AJA beyond the physical walls of the school. We want them to understand the importance of being more than just a number - to embrace their individuality and uniqueness - and to choose carefully the company they keep.
Rabbi Ari Leubitz