Jazzing Things Up

The SDJA music program gives a new spin on old school programming, and introduces students to new views on the art form
By Ron Gneezy (‘21)

 

Kab Shab Band 2019-2020

The Advanced Music class, spearheaded by Rabbi Frank and Mr. Collins, with help from Mr. Kahn, performs arrangements of classic Jewish songs at Kabbalat Shabbat. Photo by Rosie Alchalel (’21)

 

Since the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, the music program — especially the Advanced Music class — has grown both its presence on campus and its influence on the student body vastly. It’s practically a different entity compared to itself in previous years.

One big change is the rejuvenated presence of singers in the Advanced Music class. When asked about her history with the class, Sivan Gabai (‘23) stated, “I started Advanced Music this year,” and the story is the same for every singer.

With a constantly changing student body, bringing in new students is important for making sure the music program thrives. Mr. Collins has been teaching for, by his own account, “around fifteen years,” so he’s seen much of the program’s evolution.

Some students currently in the program have been participants since well before they entered high school, such as accomplished trumpeter Charles Simons (‘21), who, “started actually… playing the trumpet in 5th grade.” No matter when they joined the program, though, the goal for Mr. Collins remains the same: to make sure that, “as [the students’] musical ability gets better and they get more comfortable playing with other people, that they’re able to communicate through the music,” adding that, “improvisation is really the ultimate goal.”

Many students have greatly appreciated this direction of teaching, such as Devin Marcus (‘21), who says that, compared to when he was playing mostly by himself, “knowing that the other instruments are there to accompany me and what I can do is really fun, and I enjoy playing with them because they can also teach you a lot more about how to work in a group.”

The biggest change for the music program this year, though, is the integration of the Advanced Music class into the brand new Kabbalat Shabbat programming. The weekly repetition of these performances has played into their evolution, with Sivan Gabai saying that, “singing in front of the entire group at Kabbalat Shabbat has just become, y’know, more like a routine, so not necessarily as big as a performance.” This is key for that comfort in playing that Mr. Collins is seeking.

In addition to furthering Mr. Collins’ goal of teaching students the valuable skill of improvisation, the Kabbalat Shabbat involvement is a massive part of Rabbi Frank’s ultimate plan for the Friday programming. The Rabbi’s goal since day one has been, “to get kids up on the stage with us, not only playing music, but ultimately my vision is that all of the staff are gonna be very far in the background. The kids are gonna be taking ownership for introducing the various Brachot, candle lighting, Mi Shebeirach, and so forth, and giving Drashot instead of me.” The musicians’ involvement is just the first part of this.

Everywhere on campus, the impact of the music program is increasing at a breakneck pace. As more students get involved in events and performances around the school — from showcase night to open mics — the general capability increases, with members from the seasoned students to the fresh blood learning nonstop. Hopefully, this trend continues for years to come.

Lion-ing Up for Lunch

New MUS Cafe and Lunch Area Spark Gustatory Adventures 

By Alexandra Wellman (’23)

Standing in line to purchase hot lunch, Jessica Podolsky (‘20) tries to peek through the swarm of people to see what’s on the menu, ready to get her hands on the day’s meal. “I love how convenient it is to get lunch here,”  Jessica states, adding how “ it’s not only easy to just swing by and pick it up but it’s also delicious.”

This year the SDJA hot-lunch has had a major influx of hungry customers. Why? Because, thanks to the new Lion’s Cafe, the lunch experience has been changed for the better.

In past years, students had to walk from the upper school to the lower school playground to pick up their hot lunches. This process took precious time out of students’ short break. Upon arriving at SDJA, Executive Chef Giselle Wellman, took it upon herself to change the hot lunch experience in the Maimonides Upper School.  Just two years later, the Lion’s Café opened to the hungry Lions in the upper school. 

The new Lions Café was the perfect solution to students’ lunch problems.

However, the success of the Lion’s Cafe has not come without hardship. The new café brought the challenge of more students coming in to receive lunch every day. “I’m a lot busier this year moving food from one kitchen to the other but it feels great to be able to feed more people,” Giselle Wellman shared. 

With the shortened wait time and easy access to the café, more students choose to buy lunch. However, the increase of students has made it harder to keep track of each person who walked in the door. The solution? Each student now has a PIN number which they type into a computer before selecting their meal. 

Which, of course, brings its own technological difficulties. 

Although it may sound simple, memorizing a PIN number does not top the list for most students. Mrs. Anna Falkiewicz, MUS Dean of Students, who helps out at the Lions Café every day, expressed that it was definitely frustrating at first to have to remind students of their PIN every day. Despite the difficulties, every student who remembers their PIN number means faster food for everyone else. 

Although there have been some twists and turns along the way, there is one thing the Lions Café has definitely done right–the food! For example, students all know that Wednesdays are pizza days, lining up ahead of time pouring in as soon as lunch starts. 

When asked about past meals she has enjoyed at the Lions’ Café, Noa Rosenbaum (’23) says, “I am never disappointed by the food. Regardless of what is served, it is always delicious.” 

Bringing the school healthy lunches has been the main goal for the Lions Café. Ms. Wellman explains that, “Just because it tastes good doesn’t mean it has to be unhealthy. I always try to incorporate fruits, vegetables, and healthy ingredients into the lunches for the students.” One of the delicious meals that exhibits this perfectly is a campus favorite: butternut squash macaroni and cheese. “Yes! It’s mac and cheese day” students excitedly whisper in class rooms, hallways, and all around school. Diego Kohan (’22), already excited for the next one, says “I honestly never knew it had butternut squash! I think it’s great to know that the delicious lunch that I eat all the time is good for me, too.”

 

Eitan Breziner and Chicken Fingers

Eitan Breziner (’20) savors every bite of his chicken fingers and potato wedges . 

Photo by Alexandra Wellman (’23)

The Lions’ Café is not the only recent addition to the SDJA lunch experience; students are also making good use out of the handsome new tables, a welcome replacement for some of the old worn out tables. These new brown wooden tables have improved the ambiance of students’ lunch time experience. “The tables added a sense of community to SDJA, since some of the new tables are bigger they’ve allowed more people to sit together.” Kate Aizin (‘22) shares.

SDJA is experiencing a new lunch-time dynamic. Bringing hot, healthy, and delicious lunches to the MUS, and adding new, unifying tables and a more efficient delivery system has sparked an eating renaissance on campus. What delicious item will you have for lunch tomorrow at the Lions Café?

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. 

 

Firewall Frustration

SDJA students speak out against Internet blocks on controversial websites 

By Gabriela Wellman (‘20)

 

Internet Firewall by Elizabeth Nebo

Illustration © Elizabeth Nebo (2019)

 

While searching for information for an assignment on Roe v. Wade, Galia Cohen (‘20) looked up plannedparenthood.com only to be met with the following message, “Your connection is not private, please navigate back to safety.” Shrugging it off, Cohen attempted to open the second hit from her Google search–‘abortion’–but once again, she encountered the same message redirecting her back to the main Google page. 

“It was so irritating,” Cohen explains. “Planned Parenthood is a way to access important information on issues you might not know well enough. The school’s WiFi prohibiting access to it felt like limiting our access to information.” 

Ana Gerson (‘21), a student in AP U.S. Government who faced the same impediment as Cohen, says, “It made me feel outraged and confused. I feel like by blocking access for students on that website, the school is trying to influence us into believing something we don’t necessarily believe.”

Similar to AP U.S Government, Judaism and the Body, and Jewish Ethics are classes that push the boundaries of traditional classroom topics. Just like with Cohen’s and Gerson’s experiences with Planned Parenthood, students in these classes were asked to do school-sponsored research and were also surprised to find that websites containing sensitive information were blocked by the SDJA WiFi’s Firewall. 

“As a parent, especially thinking of middle school students, I would want to know that they have the freedom to be on the Internet while safety features are in place,” History Department Chair, Mrs. Susan Wu adds, “But I do not understand the block on Planned Parenthood.”

Dean of Students, Mrs. Anna Falkiewicz agrees that the block, specifically on this website, sends a negative message to pro-choice individuals, making them believe that this is not something our community supports, which, she clarifies, is not the intention. 

Of course, it is understandable that parameters must be put in place in order to ensure that students navigate safely and resourcefully on the school WiFi, but, based on conversations with students and teachers, there seems to be an overarching request to widen those parameters. 

Gali Laska (‘20) thinks that “these parameters are valid, to a certain extent. There are some websites, for example, those which include inappropriate information or photos, that should not be able to be reached under school WiFi, but anything containing valuable information to students should not be blocked.”

But, the school’s WiFi firewall raises some questions: What is being blocked? And why? 

Mrs. Sara Hansen, English Department Chair, describes how every year she demonstrates to students her ability to freely access Martinlutherking.org, a website whose name sounds credible but is actually owned by the KKK. How is it that such sites can be visited, but truly informative ones, such as plannedparenthood.com are blocked?

The Lion’s Den decided to reach out to the school’s IT Director, Mr. Chris Hill, to find out more about the firewall and how the restriction might be used more effectively. Apparently, SDJA’s firewall works by identifying and flagging certain words or phrases, such as ‘drugs,’ and ‘sex,’ and blocking out websites that includes those red-flags. 

“[It blocks] any standard sites that aren’t appropriate for kids or employees at work,” Hill clarifies. But, regardless of how this block happens, many students can agree that widening the parameters on technology would enhance their learning experience. 

Jimmy Cohen (‘22) is among a number of students offering potential solutions and next steps toward fixing the block. “First and foremost, I think that [plannedparenthood.com] has to be unblocked immediately,” Cohen says. “I also think that, at the very least, we need to be provided with a list of approved websites for research, especially on these more controversial topics such as abortion and drugs.”

Another popular suggestion around campus is the idea of a ‘teacher override,’ a solution allowing students researching topics for a specific class to request access to blocked websites directly from their teachers. Teachers could then override the firewall’s system on those specific devices. Given the amount of student interest in improving Internet access, it remains to be seen what the solution may be.

Amidst the controversy, it is reassuring to hear that SDJA administration and the IT department are not seeking to steer students’ minds with any political bias.

Mrs. Falkiewicz reiterates the fact that, “SDJA values individuals’ own opinions on political issues and is, by no means, trying to formulate opinions for its students.” 

Hopefully the entire student body can look forward to a solution that fosters the use of the latest technology in their learning in a way that doesn’t expose them to distracting, and even harmful, information. 

 

 

Can Israeli Politics Thrive at SDJA? 

By Dalia Gerson (’23) and Rosie Alchalel (’21)

Netanyahu & Gantz - Wellman (January 2020)

Illustration by Gaby Wellman (‘20)

BIBI CHAIM SHELI, Sharon Cohen (‘20) proudly scribbles on Mrs. Webber’s whiteboard during the busy Yearbook class period. This simple Hebrew phrase roughly translates to “Bibi is my life,” alluding to Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel. 

“Are you crazy?” Gaby Wellman (‘20) wittily remarks, “I think you misspelled Gantz,” referring to Netanyahu’s most prominent political opponent, Benny Gantz. 

Both inside and outside the classroom, this year’s Israeli elections have slowly taken over SDJA. No surprise considering that the school has Israel rooted in its foundation, seen in such facts as the Lower School being named for Prime Minister Golda Meir, the larger-than-life portrait of Theodor Herzl in the MUS lobby, and the annual schoolwide Israel week celebration in late January and early February. 

Although students tend to maintain loyalty to the United States by tuning into American politics more than they do to the situation in Israel, politics in Israel continue to play a strong role in students’ lives. And while most, if not all, SDJA students share a love for the Jewish state, many differ in their political ideology and their hopes for the state. But how much do they really know about Israeli politics? How deeply do they care about the future of their home away from home? 

Many students from non-Israeli backgrounds, such as Eli Lerner (‘21), do, in fact, follow Israeli politics. “It is the home of the Jewish people and I have a connection to it,” Lerner comments. “I check to see how it is doing.” Similarly, Gaby Wellman cares about Israeli politics because, as she says, “Israel is a country that I hold close to my heart.” 

Yonatan Boukobza (‘23), who is visiting from Beer Sheva, Israel for a year, thinks that it is important to follow the politics of both Israel and the United States. Israeli politics matter to him because Israel is his home while “American politics also matter because they can help Israel because the U.S. is stronger.”

Mr. Torens' Jewish Values in the Israel-Palestine Conflict Class (January 2020)

High School students sit attentively during Mr. Jeremy Toren’s Jewish Values and Israeli Palestinian Conflict class.  Photo by Rosie Alchalel (‘21)

 

But where are these students getting all of their information from? 

Some students, such as Eitan Breziner (‘20) and Reef Gonen (‘22), turn to Israeli news outlets like Ynet in order to stay updated, yet the majority of SDJA students rely on social media. Rikki Dorfan (‘22) stays updated by viewing the Daily Mail story on Snapchat, and Talia Abu (‘22) uses social media to stay connected with current news. 

Instead of allowing students to rely solely on the media for the news, the SDJA Hebrew department sees it as its mission to provide students with Israeli political knowledge. Morah Shira graciously shared some insight about the class with The Lions’ Den: “We cover the current issues and current news in Israel, especially the elections, without giving any opinion, using just facts about what’s happening.” Additionally, a lot of students turn to Morah Shira outside of class. She claims that students come to her with questions about the topic “at least once a week.” 

As well as acquiring information about Israel from the Hebrew department, many students enroll in the Israeli Palestinian Conflict class led my Mr.Toren. While this semester-long class does not emphasize current events, politics do play a role in its curriculum. “A big part of our discussions [focus on] the connection between values and politics,” comments Mr. Toren. 

Overall, the task at hand is educating more students about the issues that matter in Israeli politics so they can develop their own opinions and decide how deeply they want to get involved. Many students feel as though a course strictly about Israeli politics would be beneficial. Eli Lerner (‘22) thinks that  “a class [like that] would be cool because I know I am not as educated as I could be.” Talia Abu (22’) says that it could be a good idea “if it is in a way that is unbiased.” It seems that the challenge is about keeping it factual and objective in order for people to freely develop their own opinions.

While the school definitely has room to grow in its coverage of Israeli politics, one thing is for certain: conversations between students will continue to circle around their beloved homeland. 

 

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.     

 

Crunch Time

A Loud Reminder to Eat Breakfast

By Kayla Swartzberg (‘21)

Rumbles echo throughout the Ulam–they’re long and deep. Swiveling in unison, the students turn to lock eyes with each other, rubbing their stomachs with guilty smirks. No breakfast? No problem. Right? Wrong. At San Diego Jewish Academy, the Lions need to eat.

Every day presents new choices, new options and opportunities to grow and learn–blessings at our fingertips. Most SDJA students take such freedoms of learning for granted. 

“I get to choose subjects that I’m passionate about, and I’m not forced to take classes that disinterest me,” Geena Benson (‘21) says.

However, such opportunities can be diminished. By breakfast–or, more accurately, by students’ lack of it.

 

“For me, personally, breakfast is not the biggest meal,” Gabi Acks (‘22) states. Her classmate, Diego Kohan (‘22) agrees that breakfast isn’t his largest meal, “I may eat a piece of bread for breakfast on a school day.” 

Both Kohan and Acks believe that a good breakfast can give them energyor as Kohan remarks, “a daily boost.” Why, then, do they not take advantage of it?

Time. Students do not have time to eat breakfast in the morning. Coach Nicole Trotta, science and anatomy teacher at SDJA, offers a solution to this problem. “Wake up five minutes earlier!” she exclaims, adding how eggs, smoothies, and oats are easy to make and eat on-the-go.

But don’t be sly and cheat the system. Eating a breakfast of junk food, while quick and convenient, is not the answer. Athletic Director Stefanie Hill explains it is “typically high in sugar, will provide an initial burst of energy but then burn out quickly.” She finds that eating a breakfast of junk food will not keep one satisfied but will rather make them hungrier sooner than if they had eaten a healthy breakfast.

Healthy breakfast? 

“A healthy breakfast should always have a mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrates,” Coach Trotta explains, “Also, drinking water right when you wake up is very important. It rehydrates and wakes up your body, organs, and muscles.” 

As for the food itself, SDJA Executive Chef Giselle Wellman says, “I usually make two scrambled eggs and fruit with yogurt. I think it’s a great source of protein.” 

Above all, Coach Hill reminds students that  “it is important to eat balanced meals throughout the day.  Balanced meals at regular intervals create consistency for your body.” She continues by comparing food to fuel for a car. A car can’t run without fuel, just like a person can’t function without food. Simple logic.

And with that, some simple facts: skipping breakfast hinders progress in the gym. Teens who sit and eat breakfast with their families hold a more positive body image than those who don’t. With that great body image, teens who eat breakfast actually have better-smelling breath than the non-breakfast eaters. One also performs better academically with less risk of becoming obese and dying—all because of eating breakfast.

So tomorrow morning, fry yourself an egg. Crunch on some toast. Slurp down a cup of orange juice. A little crunch time will guarantee a better day.