Lions Under Quarantine

REFLECTIONS ON LIFE DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC BY MEMBERS OF THE LIONS’ DEN, THE SAN DIEGO JEWISH ACADEMY STUDENT NEWSPAPER

In_a_field_Hospital_on_the_Tugela_River

In a field hospital on the Tugela River, South Africa, 1900. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

COVID-19: NO FAIRY TALE

By Gaby Wellman (‘20)

March 19, 2020

We are living in a fairy tale. We are living through, or living in fear of, the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When we think of a fairy tale, we think of a happily-ever-after ending. Snow White receives a true love’s kiss from Prince Florian, Ariel finds her voice, Pinocchio turns into a real boy–the list goes on. As kids, these fairy-tale movies gave us dreams and hopes for our own happily ever after. But, the reason that these happy endings have such a great effect, is because of all the tension, drama, and destruction that precedes them.

We tend to look back at princess stories and remember only the best parts, the ones that made us laugh or smile, and we forget all the moments we begged our parents to fast forward through or the scenes that made us cover our eyes.

We are living in a fairy tale. We are living in the part of the story we wish could be erased. We are experiencing the rising tension, the climax of the story.

Right now, it seems like COVID-19 is ruining our lives. Has the annual SDJA senior trip to Poland and Israel been cancelled? Yes. Have Ken and Tzofim activities been suspended? Yes. Has the school campus been shut down with classes swapped for virtual learning? Yes. 

 Is this a difficult, unwarranted situation? Yes. It is, and there is no shame in having doubts, fears, or emotions about it. In an email to the senior class, Mr. Chaim Heller, San Diego Jewish Academy’s Head of School, wrote: “You get to be disappointed, you get to be angry, and you get to be flat out really bummed about this.” However, we shouldn’t get stuck in this negative spiral. We can have hope that, soon enough, we will get the happy ending that is to come. And while our happy ending might not necessarily mean returning to the way things were before, we can hope that a better, healthier alternative will arise from this situation. 

We are living in a fairy tale. We are living in the gut-wrenching, terrifying height of the story, but we are also living in the storm before the calm.

Almost overnight, our familiar routines have been ripped to shreds.  For the time being, at least, we don’t even have to get out of bed to go to school. Change is always a daunting idea, but a necessary one at that. 

We have suddenly had to face this harsh reality of social distancing and worldwide pandemic, but in this situation that has been forced upon us, we have a choice: to have self pity or to have hope and strength. 

 I urge you to choose the latter. Yes, fairy tales tend to have a happy ending, but this happily ever after doesn’t happen magically or on its own. It takes one character to stand up against all the negativity and choose to be hopeful to create the happy ending we so desire. It takes a Jack to climb up the beanstalk or a princess to admit that a tiny, little pea kept her up all night—we need to have the courage to make the necessary changes so that, in the end, all of the pieces can fall into place. 

We are living a fairy tale. We are living a fairy tale whose ending has not yet been determined. Certainly, the outcome of COVID-19 will not involve a knight in shining armor, ready to save the day, but, instead, it could result in economic prosperity, an increase in environmental awareness, and, surely, a more advanced medical field. 

The truth is, of course, that this is no fairy tale–it’s an unfortunate, unprecedented reality.  In fairy tales people are not issued mandatory “stay-at-home” orders or face a shortage of Coronavirus tests or ICU beds. In fairy tales a pandemic does not affect over 245,000 people, kill more than 10,000, and even then continue to spread. In fairy tales, the whole world does not face quarantine. But this does not mean that we cannot hope that something good will eventually come from such a calamity.

The COVID-19 story may, sooner or later, have its happily-ever-after ending but in the meantime choose to be the person who has hope that the ice will thaw, that Sleeping Beauty will wake up, and that the frog will turn back into a prince.

Super Tuesday? Or Super Fiasco?

AIPAC holds annual policy conference at the height of the Democratic primaries 

By Gabriela Wellman (‘20)

AIPAC 2020 (1)

AIPAC attendees take their seats before the General Sessions screens.  Photo: Gabriela Wellman (‘20)

Election years are notorious for their heated debates and ever-changing polls; especially infamous are the neck-in-neck primaries as candidates fight to win their party’s nomination. 

Every four years, presidential hopefuls travel all across the country trying to swing votes in their direction in each state’s primary or caucus. However, the be-all and end-all of the election year’s national convention stage omes in early March: Super Tuesday. 

Super Tuesday is the date when primaries are held in 14 states including California, Texas, Massachusetts, Alabama, and Virginia among others, accounting for over one third of the total delegate votes. In preparation for this critical date, candidates focus all of their energy on conquering the hearts and minds, and votes, of states’ residents. 

The importance surrounding Super Tuesday is well known among politically-minded groups, so why, then, did AIPAC schedule its annual policy conference for 2020 to coincide with the same date? Was it a political statement? An error in scheduling? Whatever the reason, the high-hopes held for AIPAC 2020 quickly plummeted. 

At AIPAC 2020, attendees represented all 50 states, both political parties, and many schools and universities across the nation, including San Diego Jewish Academy. 

“It was kind of disappointing that the presidential candidates couldn’t come because of the primaries. I thought since it’s an election  year, this was one of the best years to attend the conference,” Daniela Surpin (‘21) said after the first general session on Sunday morning. 

Bibi Netanyahu (March 2020)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu via live video feed during the AIPAC Afternoon General Session on Sunday, March 1, 2020. Photo: Gabriela Wellman (‘20). 

Democratic front runner Joe Biden, as well as recent dropouts Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobucar, publically opted to skip the conference. However, they later decided to submit  prerecorded video messages to be played at the general sessions. (Buttigieg’s video, for some reason, was never shown). Elizabeth Warren also decided not to attend the conference but made no official statement. 

Bernie Sanders, Biden’s main opponent for the nomination, vocally refused to attend the conference, tweeting that he “remains concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.” Sanders’ statement sparked outrage from many AIPAC supporters. 

AIPAC’s public response criticized Sander’s position, saying, “by engaging in such an odious attack on the mainstream, bipartisan American political event, Senator Sanders is insulting his very own colleagues and the millions of Americans who stand with Israel. Truly shameful.” Additionally, in a live video feed, Prime Minister Netanyahu shamed Sanders by speaking out against his “libelous” accusations.

The only Democratic candidate who was in attendance was Michael Bloomberg. Speaking out against Senator Sanders’ decision to openly reject AIPAC for 30 consecutive years, Bloomberg shouted, “Let me tell you, he is dead wrong!” 

 

AIPAC 2020 - Bloomberg

Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg addresses the crowd live during the Morning General Session on Monday, March 2, 2020. Photo: Gabriella Surpin (‘19).

Despite the negative commentary from, and about, the Democratic candidates surrounding the event, and, specifically, its chosen date, the conference managed to amaze its attendees. “Even though the political candidates were unable to attend, it was still an amazing experience,” enthused Ilan Leisorek (‘20). “I loved learning about the way Israel is moving forward technologically and developing products that can help every country around the world.”

SDJA alumnus Sharon Cohen (‘18) reflected, “It was empowering to see world politicians, including the President of the Republic of Serbia and the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, pledge their allegiance to Israel and promise to take steps towards furthering their relationship with the Jewish state. Just to have the opportunity to see Republicans and Democrats all in one room, supporting one cause, was beyond incredible.”

Throughout the conference, speakers stressed the importance of standing behind Israel and supporting the mutually beneficial relationship between Israel and the United States. The speakers, of all races, ages, and political affiliations, continuously criticized those who spoke out against AIPAC and demonstrated, time and time again, that the institution, founded in 1963, is anything but prejudiced. 

Some speakers even dared to call critics unpatriotic. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker said, “We need to understand that patriotism is a love of country, and you cannot love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen and women.”

So, super fiasco? Definitely not. 

AIPAC exceeded all expectations and showed its attendees that even in the face of criticism and hatred the American-Israeli alliance will rise above. 

 

The Real Value of College Admission

Colleges’ True Colors Finally Revealed After Admissions Scandal Shakes Public

Ariela Cohen (‘21)

For decades, a student’s SAT or ACT scores and GPA have been two of the principal ways for universities to decide which students to admit to their incoming class. 

As the college application and admission season comes and goes, students across the nation take standardized tests, often devoting several hours each week to preparation. “From the summer before junior year, until June at the end of the year, I would spend at least four hours a week studying for the test,” Gabriela Wellman (‘20) comments.

 

Rosie Alchalel & Victoria Cohen with College Sweatshirts

Rosie Alchalel (‘21) (left) and Victoria Cohen (‘20) (right) rock their dream college hoodies! Photograph Ariela Cohen (‘21)

Most students agree that the pressure these tests inflict on students is brutal. Why? College admissions have typically placed a lot of importance on an applicant’s test results. These results, in combination with the students’ GPA, have often meant the difference between being admitted or denied at a certain school.

“It is very nerve wracking having to take these tests because there is a lot of pressure from colleges, especially the more competitive ones, to have a high score,” Ella Diamond (‘20) admits.

However, since March 12, 2019, when a bribery scandal perpetrated by college counselor Rick Singer was brought to light, the entire college admission process has faced endless criticismespecially greater importance being placed on scores than on an applicant’s character. 

The most notable individual involved with the college bribery scandal so far has been actress Lori Loughlin, famous for her portrayal of Aunt Becky from Full House. Loughlin pleaded not guilty to the charges, which accused her of paying to get both of her daughters a false credential as rowing athletes as well as inflated test scores. Although the family decided to pay half-a-million dollars to Singer, the real cost might be a trip to jail.

Asked to identify the culprit of these scandals, Mr. Steve Khan, San Diego Jewish Academy college counselor, had this to say: “Fear. Parents are afraid of the unknown. So they turned to Singer because he promised them to take care of their worry and turn it into admittance.”

Students among the SDJA community have discussed the immorality of the college admissions process, especially the advantage that seems to exist for the upper class. “It is ridiculous for someone to get into college through the help of money and bribery,” Natalie Lombrozo (‘20) commented. Indeed, many people across the country have begun to wonder how a person could find fulfillment and satisfaction through this transgression.

Despite the negativity that the scandal has caused, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel: change. For starters, the ACT has added new advantages to their way of testing. Starting in September of 2020, scoring higher on the ACT will be much easier for students across the country as they will be able to retake each section (English, Math, Reading and Science) individually. In addition to this, students will be given the option to take the test on a computer at a testing center, yielding automatic results. 

Many people realize that the Loughlin-Singer incident is not an isolated problem, and while there have been many illegal and unfair situations regarding college acceptance, more facts about this scandal have become known. People are beginning to learn the consequences of taking such actions when applying to college, but as college admissions keep getting more competitive, we are left to question if these types of scandals will ever come to an end?

It’s a Family Affair

An inside look at the SDJA family through the eyes of new teachers

By Ella Diamond (‘20) and Sammi Weiss (‘23)

 

It’s 2:00 pm on a Friday. There are still 45 minutes left to go in Rabbi Frank’s senior seminar class, but instead of staring at the clock waiting for the weekend to start, the entire senior seminar class sits engrossed in a debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Rabbi David Frank, the new Chief Rabbi at the San Diego Jewish Academy, incorporates heated debates into his teaching style–a technique that has proven beneficial for students at SDJA. One reason Rabbi Frank accepted his position at SDJA was because he wanted to teach in this inclusive manner that allows students to feel at home. Why? Because SDJA is not just a school but a family that prides itself on making students feel this way, even in the classroom. 

“The administration puts their heart into what they’re doing,” Rabbi Frank says, sharing an insight he learned from having watched all three of his children go from kindergarten through 12th grade here. Coming to work here gave him the feeling of a homecoming, allowing him to find his place in the SDJA family once more.

Rabbi Frank (Jan 2020)

Rabbi Frank pauses from planning the school’s weekly Kabbalat Shabbat. 

Photo: Sammi Weiss (‘23)

Rabbi Jacobson, another new face in the Judaica department, also came to SDJA because of the family feel. She has taught at several day schools across the country but none of them, she says, are like SDJA. “This is the first school [where I’ve been] that encourages students to ask questions,” Rabbi Jacobson says, recalling the Jewish values she grew up with, which encourages curiosity. She believes that by asking many questions, students feel a part of the teaching process and are encouraged to take a greater interest in their learning. 

Rabbi Jacobson (Jan 2020)
Rabbi Jacobson preparing to answer her students’ questions during POD. 

Photo: Ella Diamond (‘20) and Sammi Weiss (‘23)

Other fresh faces at the school include Mr. David Sered, the newest history teacher and his daughter, Ms. Allie Sered, a teacher’s assistant in the Golda Meir Lower School. This father-daughter pair have really taken the idea of SDJA as a family to heart. Mr. Sered explains that, “everybody here is very much a part of the community, and people are invested in each other.” Compared to the other schools where he has previously taught, including a Catholic school in Los Angeles, Mr. Sered appreciates the fact that SDJA is open to using conversational methods in the classroom; he believes that giving the class a sense of freedom allows students to feel heard and pushes them to learn even more.  

David Sered & Ally Sered (Jan 2020)

The fabulous father-daughter duo, Mr. David Sered and Ms. Allie Sered. 

Photo: Ella Diamond (‘20) and Sammi Weiss (‘23)

Similarly, Dr. Perry Strahl, the school’s newest resident mathematics expert, has also found the tight-knit family environment at SDJA to be “super friendly.” Coming from UCSD where he taught in a huge lecture hall filled with over 400 students, Dr. Strahl feels like the small classes here are a breath of fresh air. He appreciates the school’s “resources and motivated student body,” because they allow him to truly pass on his knowledge and help students with their individual needs. After only one semester of classes, he says, SDJA already feels like home. 

Perry Strahl (Jan 2020)

The smiling Dr. Strahl at home in his element.  Photo: Sammi Weiss (‘23)

Regardless of where the new teachers came from, or how they got here, all agree that they have found comfort within the walls of SDJA. This can only happen in a school like SDJA; not the school, the family. 

 

If the Lockdown Had Been Real 

Gun violence continues to menace schools and communities nationwide

By Rosie Alchalel (‘21) and Kayla Swartzberg (‘21)

Gaby Wellman - Gun Illustration (December 2019)

Illustration by Gaby Wellman (’20)

“16 seconds is all it takes for a 16-year-old boy in Saugus High School to take a .45 handgun and shoot five of his fellow classmates,” Rabbi Frank somberly remarked at an SDJA high school Kabbalat Shabbat on November 15.

In the crowd, students barely seemed surprised because school shootings have become commonplace in the United States. Since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, an estimated 223,000 students have experienced school shootings. Although these numbers may seem unfathomable, an accidental code-red lockdown at SDJA on November 7th reminded everyone that a school shooting is not inconceivable. 

“I was kind of prepared because I had done lockdown drills at my old school,” Sivan Gabai (‘23) explains, “But when I got inside everyone else was very serious about it so I didn’t know if it was real or fake.” 

Thankfully, Ken Freshwater, Director of Security and Safety, soon realized that the alarm, which initiated the lockdown, was triggered by accident—no actual threat was present at the school. 

This isn’t the first time both faculty and students dealt with the repercussions of gun violence. Just two years ago, they initiated a walk-out on campus after the infamous shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that claimed 17 lives.

Walkout

SDJA students show solidarity with victims of gun violence during the SDJA walkout in March, 2018
Photo by Elizabeth Nebo

 

But many schools around the country have come face-to-face with real danger. Most recently, Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, located just north of Los Angeles, suffered a school shooting on Thursday, November 14. 

Although many students don’t have a direct connection to Saugus High School, Hannah Moel (‘20) says that “everyone knows somebody who knows somebody” who has experienced gun violence first hand. As it turns out, this is true even within the SDJA community; Eli Lerner (‘21) comments that his camp counselor witnessed both the 2019 Poway synagogue shooting  and the Carlsbad Elementary School shooting in 2010.

Mass shootings have become an American phenomenon and are occurring faster than the nation can process. The day following the Saugus High School Shooting, Pleasantville High School in New Jersey experienced a school shooting of its own in which two boys and a man were shot;  one of the boys later died. On a Saturday morning, November 16, a man in San Diego shot his wife and three children before turning the gun on himself. 

“It’s been less than 24 hours since you interviewed me about the Saugus High School shooting, and now we see gun violence yet again. This time even closer to home,” Moel states.

Another issue is the fact that some of these shootings can become lost in the media. Shootings seem to occur at such a rapid pace that they almost inevitably cease to shock the public or raise much concern.

Since the first day of the school year, on August 20, shooters have shot, killed, and wounded students at 23 different schools throughout the nation. On August 30, during a high school football game in Mobile, Alabama, ten teenagers were shot and injured by a 17-year-old young man. Less than two months later, on October 9, two men in Lowell, Massachusetts used BB guns to open fire at kindergarteners. Five children were hit and two were taken to the hospital. On November 4, a student at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Missouri was shot and killed after a gun was accidentally discharged. Not even two weeks later, on Sunday, November 17th, in Fresno, California, two gunmen snuck into a house party and opened fire; four people were killed, six wounded. On a Saturday morning, November 24, two boys, aged 11 and 14, were shot and killed outside an elementary school in Union City, California. 

“It is time to wake up and ignite the change that is necessary.” Jessy Podolsky (‘20) says, “There’s not a single solution that will solve this, but we definitely need more gun regulations.”  Jessie Gan (‘21) adds, “There should be emotional regulation of those who own guns already, although it is important to not cross the line of invading privacy.” 

Following the mass shooting that took the lives of 22 innocent shoppers at Walmart on August 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas, a beautiful memorial was unveiled. Called the “Grand Candela,” this memorial shines as “a beacon of hope for the survivors, and a lasting reminder to all of the enduring strength, resiliency and love that unites El Paso,” the plaque reads.

“At the end of the day our lives are on the line,” Joshua Miller (‘21) explains, “and sadly we don’t see much being done about it.”

Since January 2019, over 440 innocent people have been brutally shot and murdered in the U.S.A., and the numbers only seem to be increasing. As this article was being edited for publication, two more tragic shootings occurred in the United States. On Saturday, December 8th, a Saudi Arabian air force lieutenant studying in the U.S. opened fire at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida resulting in three deaths and leaving another eight people wounded. And on Tuesday, December 10, two gunmen in Jersey City, New Jersey murdered a policeman near a cemetery and three civilians in a Jewish grocery store before being killed by police in a violent shootout.