Thanks For the Dance: A Second Wind and A Dying Gasp

Leonard Cohen’s posthumous album proves a fitting final farewell to the poet of the soul.

Album Review by Ron Gneezy (‘21)

Leonard Cohen Mural in Montreal

A mural of the late Leonard Cohen in his home city of Montreal (Wikimedia Commons)

Leonard Cohen’s music is a glorious thing that hangs over my family like a guardian angel at all times. When my parents first moved in together, my aunt gave them a cassette with two albums: on one side, Janis Ian’s Between the Lines. On the other, Songs of Leonard Cohen. From that point onward, my family has had many major experiences with Cohen’s music, from the first concert my parents went to in San Diego to listening to Old Ideas on repeat for two weeks on end in the Galapagos. Now, the last new album of his that we’ll ever hear is Thanks For the Dance.

I cannot call Thanks For the Dance Leonard Cohen’s best album — or even a top-three album of his. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful way for him to say goodbye — after he seemed to be saying goodbye for all of the 2000’s. Some songs were almost complete when he died, others were merely recordings of him rhythmically reading his poetry. Despite this, every song sounds just like how I imagine he would put music to his words — largely thanks to the production talents of his son Adam.

The album is headlined by the single “Happens to the Heart,” a very fitting choice to enter into the pantheon of Cohen’s singles — home to the legendary “Hallelujah” and the iconic “Suzanne.” The song feels like the culmination of a great theme of Cohen’s late career: the blurry lines between the love of humans and the love of God. More than that, it feels like a story of Cohen’s life: in his studies of all the religions and ideologies of the world, he met Christ and read Marx; he studied with beggars; he was scarred by the women he failed to disregard; yet through it all, he chose to focus not on what happens to him, but on what happens to all men — to the hearts of men.

In reflecting on his own heart, though, Cohen wrote “Moving On,” the one song on the album with a known backstory: Leonard Cohen’s first partner, muse, and soulmate apparent, Marianne Ihlen, passed away mere months before his own curtain call, prompting him to compose an oft-circulated, oft-misquoted letter to be read aloud at her funeral. It seems that, for every word he failed to say to her in life, he added another word to this tribute — a tribute to the “queen of lilac, queen of blue.” The composition of the track itself is hauntingly beautiful. Javier Mas, a colleague of Cohen’s who joined him for his final tours, can be heard playing his friend’s discarded acoustic guitar with virtuosity, bringing lightness and sincerity to the piece.

Cohen would begin every concert with a performance of “Dance Me to the End of Love,” and would often use “Take This Waltz” as a midpoint. For the ending of this story which spans decades, one can turn to the album’s namesake, “Thanks For the Dance.” Perhaps the most quaint song from the album — feeling as though it would be at home on his first album as well as his last — it feels like a waltz that would be perfect for anybody trying to learn the dance. The instrumentation and tone almost carry a celebratory feel, though tinged with Cohen’s trademark melancholy cynicism.

The final song on the album, “Listen to the Hummingbird,” feels distinct from the rest of Cohen’s catalogue. The recording of his voice here was not destined for the studio. It was just the last poem he read at the press conference for the release of his album You Want it Darker, only two weeks before his death. In the poem, Cohen specifically calls for his listeners not to listen to him — to listen to the unseen, the unknown, or the short-lived. Cohen resigns himself to the background, content with the idea that he will speak no more, because he has said the last words he cares to speak.

Thanks For the Dance may be slightly below the quality of Cohen’s numerous other swan songs, but it is still a fantastic experience. Sonically pleasing, lyrically intense, spiritually settling. So many songs feel like Cohen’s last words on the stories of his life — the balance of debauchery and study, the eternities with and aeons apart from his love, and the very idea of his own legacy, just to name a few. Through his friends, families and colleagues, the immortal words of Leonard Cohen have been given a fitting moral conclusion.

The Stage is Set!

SDJA unveils plans for transforming former library into performing arts auditorium. 

By Sammi Weiss (‘23)


(Photo: Tibbits Opera House, Coldwater Michigan. Wikimedia Commons)

The red fabric curtains fly open and the stage is ready for the performance. The audience awaits the show in their seats and quiets down as the theater lights dim. The first cast members appear on stage and begin the performance. This is how the new, forthcoming Ana “Janche” Galicot Performing Arts Auditorium at the San Diego Jewish Academy will inspire creativity in the students. It will bring forth opportunities and possibilities that the school has yet to put the spotlight on. 

It all started with an idea by Skip Carpowich, SDJA’s CFO/COO, about how to utilize the former library space in a more efficient way. 

Next, enter the passionate Paula “PK” Brannon, K-12 Theater Director and Teacher.  Ms. Brannon has had a love for theater for many years: she pursued a career in directing in New York and is currently the director of theater programs at San Diego Jewish Academy.  

Creativity is key in acting, says Brannon, it “allows you to always think outside the box. [The arts] allow confidence to take root and stay with you throughout your life.” Take this idea, for instance: transforming the library, a quiet space for reading and working, into an auditorium, a loud room dedicated to performances. This will be a creative and out-of-the-box way to utilize that space. With a new auditorium, students will be given the opportunity to explore their artistic identities. 

The auditorium will help foster students’ creative expression, similar to how football fields or tracks prompt students to perform athletically. 

One of the key aspects of the performing arts is theater. Currently, in the 2019-2020 school year, SDJA only offers one high school theater class, The Coffeehouse Project. 

Kayla Swartzberg (‘21), a current junior at SDJA, expresses her passion for theater through acting. “I’m glad that the school really supports the arts and wants to nurture it more for students who are interested,” Swartzberg says. She is full of excitement to showcase her talent in this new auditorium. 

Sophomores, Kate Aizin (‘22) and Alec Amiel (‘22), are passionate about theater and think that the auditorium will maximize this space’s potential. Amiel says, “sharing the music room, while it’s nice and convenient…it’s nicer to have our own theater.” Aizin and Amiel have also helped cultivate the idea for Open Mic, and they both think that this interactive lunch time activity could additionally be a good use of the auditorium. Aizin explains, “We have barely any performing arts classes, except for High School Music and Advanced Music, and I think we need more drama!” 

Julia Schultz (‘23) is one of the only freshmen who currently pursues her passion for acting both inside and outside of school. “Theater is very important because it helps us grow and learn…as an actor,” Schultz says. She is eager to let her acting skills flourish in the auditorium. 

Another aspect to performing arts is music. Whether it is learning to play a new instrument or continuing on the path to becoming a better musician, music flows through our campus. 

An upcoming graduating senior, Evan Kohn (‘20), participated in Advanced Music class this year. Kohn says, “this was a good class to practice and improve my ability.” He wishes this auditorium had been a part of his last year of high school, but he appreciates the opportunity “for performing arts…to be seen in a new light [in the years to come].”

Devin Marcus (‘21), an 11th grade pianist in Advanced Music, says the auditorium would be a good place to put the students’ musical abilities to good use. “We could encourage the music department to host events there,” Marcus explains. 

Two freshmen, Adam Glasser (‘23) and Lia Gabai (‘23), are both talented singers who share a love for music. “[The auditorium] will bring in a lot of new possibilities to the school,” Glasser shares. He adds that music is one of his passions because “it brings out a part of me that is otherwise kept inside.” Likewise, Gabai explains how the auditorium will provide opportunities for the school, which, she believes, should “absolutely offer more performing classes because at this age it will be used as a way to branch out and be yourself.”  

As the red curtains close for the library, the spotlight will soon shine on the immense opportunities promised by the school’s new performing arts auditorium.


The Majestic Art Works of SDJA

A campus tour of the artistic works that brighten our campus with vibrant radiance and mystic Jewish values.

By Brannigan Stone *

For thousands of years, humans have been expressing themselves and drawing from their environment through art. This human characteristic has been passed down for generations, eventually lending itself to the San Diego Jewish Academy Community. With this creative outlet, our community has been able to create beautiful works of art for the school campus, placing an emphasis on what it means to be Jewish.

The Foot


A statue of a large foot, located in the Golda Meir lower school, shows the foot in mid-step. This stepping action signifies the families who took a chance, leaving their native countries to settle in San Diego. This sculpture showcases the bravery these families demonstrated as it is a life changing move to leave behind everything one knows in their old life, and take up one that is new and foreign. The foot was originally designed and sculpted by José Sacal. He titled his work First Step, and intended the piece to be surrounded by sharp and rugged rocks to show the difficulty of making the first step as an immigrant to a new country. San Diego was the symbolism for that new country where immigrants from Canada, Mexico, South Africa, and Israeli settled. However, the school opted to replace the rocks with something gentler, grass and flowers and smooth stones being more appropriate to the elementary school setting. According to SDJA Head of School, Chaim Heller, “It doesn’t change the message of the step onto new soil for immigrants, but it doesn’t have the same association with the tragedy, pain, and suffering.” 

Levana’s Garden

Levana's Garden Gate

Nature, although mysterious, is a beauty that cannot go unacknowledged, especially for its artistic finesse. In the hopes of seeking this beauty on our campus, one should look no further than Levana’s Garden, across from our middle school quad. This garden doesn’t just have history, but a spiritual presence that gives its visitors a sense of well being upon entering through its decorated gates. 

Upon entry, one sets out on a mystical journey with rainbow turtles, beautiful matriarchs, and symbolic quotes. With each step, they are a witness to the beauty of nature, and all of its facets. 

The Four Matriarchs 

Four Matriarchs

Within sight distance of The Foot, near the entrance to Levana’s Garden, the Four Matriarchs of Judaism stand in commemoration of the four matriarchs of the Torah. These include Sarah, Rachael, Rebekah, and Leah, showcasing the communal aspect of our community, as well as our journey and the survival of the Jewish people. The communal aspect is symbolized in the giving of the water portrayed by the matriarchs and how much of a role women play in nourishing our community. 

Trash Cans 

Trash Cans

The trash cans in the Maimonides Upper School used to serve solely as the dumping grounds for trash and lunchtime leftovers. These waste containers were given little thought until SDJA art teacher Elizabeth Nebo got the idea that they might become something more than that. She saw the surface of the bins as a canvas, rather than an ordinary facility unit. Ms. Nebo, with the help of her students, busted out the paint and brushes, and got to work. This installation has inspired positive feedback from the student body, including Nathaniel Manner, who admires the “different colors and vibrancy they bring to our campus.””

The Butterflies 


The entire SDJA campus – from the walls of the administration building to the Upper School office is adorned with butterflies. Each butterfly signifies a child killed during the Holocaust. These butterflies were created and painted by members of the San Diego community, and symbolize a project that is greater than just the SDJA community, one that includes other Jewish schools and communities. The idea for the butterfly project came from a film called Paperclip, and it spread to becoming butterflies that decorate our campus. The butterflies are some of the most popular decorations among the high school students and teachers, with Brendan Marx (’22) and Mark Zaga (’21) appreciating “all the pretty colors, and the positive essence the butterflies bring to our campus to remind us of the fallen children of the Holocaust.” 

The Menorah 

SDJA Menorah

The Menorah is one the most popular defining symbols of Judaism. Its 6 distinctive branches, and middle shammash, are symbolic parts of the piece representing Jewish life. As a Jewish school, the San Diego Jewish Academy built this piece to represent our progress and Jewish identity. We began this process as one of five Jewish schools that participated in a project called Jewish Day School 2000. The idea of this program was to figure out what the future of Jewish schools would be like. At the time, the schools involved, including SDJA, vowed to create a high school as they were all K-8 schools at the time. To commemorate this dream, the schools each constructed their own sculptures with the Jewish Academy creating a menorah. 

Just as the menorah commemorates this idea of Jewish progress, we ourselves can look towards the artworks on our campus, and appreciate them for their Jewish influences. widening our view by admiring their details as we migrate back towards our spiritual roots. 

* All artworks photos by Brannigan Stone (’21)