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. 

 

Dynamic Duos 

SDJA celebrates the bond between teachers and students 

By Madeline Ramirez (‘21) and Sammi Weiss (‘23)

While every high school seems to have its share of the stereotypical jocks, nerds, popular kids, and loners, San Diego Jewish Academy is different: there is something here that goes deeper than just superficial names. We have dynamic duos which consist of students and faculty members. 

One dynamic duo was sculpted in the ceramics classroom. Senior Tali Eichner (‘20) and her art teacher, Ms. Elizabeth Nebo, have been close friends for nearly two years—ever since Eichner first stepped into the earthy-smelling, clay-filled classroom. 

Despite the difficulties of creating art pieces, Eichner feels she has Ms. Nebo to lean on, like an easel. “I went to pod to ask questions and made a continuous effort to get better at ceramics,” Tali says. Ms. Nebo was always there to answer her questions, help her with technique, and develop her skills. “That’s when it all started,” Ms. Nebo says. 

Tali Eichner and Ms. Nebo

Tali Eichner (‘20) and Ms. Elizabeth Nebo laugh together outside the Ceramics classroom.

From then on, their friendship evolved into lunch dates in Nebo’s classroom, talking about the most miscellaneous and heartfelt things, including family, college, classes, and food. Ms. Nebo, a new teacher at the time, was able to feel welcomed by having a student look up to her as a mentor. “We started bonding over projects in class, then it progressed to our families,” says Ms. Nebo. Every day Tali would walk into Ms. Nebo’s classroom just to talk, even if she only had a couple minutes. 

Another friendship blossomed three years ago when Rosie Alchalel (‘21) was in Mrs. Annie Watt’s 8th grade advisory. Alchalel, now an outgoing junior, caught Mrs. Watt’s attention. They began to develop a friendship that lasted through the ups and downs of their lives. 

“[Rosie] demanded more attention than other students,” Mrs. Watt explains. Watt goes on to explain that Alchalel was eager to come in during breaks in her day to check in with Mrs. Watt about everything; college applications, school life, advice, and personal drama. 

Rosie & Mrs. Watt

Mrs. Annie Watt and Rosie Achalel (‘21) pause from their busy schedules. 

Mrs. Watt provided Alchalel with an experienced outlook on life, as well as advice that her student friends couldn’t provide for her. 

Rosie says their friendship works so well because “she is really understanding and provides an older perspective. I’m the opposite.” Having this different point of view helped Rosie paint a different picture of life. 

From Yearbook picture deadlines to the stress of leadership roles, senior Gali Laska (‘20) sparked a friendship with Mrs. Yvonne Webber. The sparks ignited when Mrs. Webber was Laska’s 7th grade Judaica teacher. As the years progressed, so did their friendship. 

Mrs. Webber describes their friendship as ecstatic and stress-free. “[We] share the stresses of being in charge of people who aren’t doing their assignments,” she says. The excitement of creating SDJA’s unique yearbook, The Roar, makes them proud to share it with everyone. 

 

Gali & Mrs. Webber

Gali Laska (‘20) and Mrs. Yvonne Webber run the yearbook with smiling faces.

Laska and Mrs. Webber share a smile almost every class. Whether it’s about something personal, or the mistakes the yearbook staff make, they always share that smile. 

Gali explains that their friendship works so well because “She is always just there.” No matter what is going on or how busy they are, they always find time to just talk, listen, and reflect on their days. Good or bad news, their ears are always open to listen to whatever the other one needs to discuss. 

All of these dynamic duos work well because of their similarities, experiences, and passions. Whether it’s the love of art, the stress of leadership, or the everyday check-ins, they have all found the one person at SDJA with whom they can connect on a deeper level. And as the years pass, both students and teachers will always have their memories to reflect upon and celebrate.

 

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?

Programed for Victory

Lions robotics team ends its most successful season yet

By Ana Gerson (’21)

The San Diego Jewish Academy robotics team competed in its first meet of the season on Sunday, December 15th, following their 7th place win in a meet the previous year. The well-oiled machine, led by co-presidents Jesse Gan (‘21) and Noah Katcher (‘20), has worked hard to improve both its robot and their code.

Robotics Meet #1

The team intently watches their robot at their first meet on December 15, 2019. Photo by Micheala Simble (21’).

The team started preparing for meets months in advance, coming together on Thursdays and Sundays to work. Mr. Patrick Hagerman, SDJA science teacher and the faculty adviser for the robotics team, says that they “have always had a strong building team; the mechanical engineering side has always been strong. We have focused a lot of energy in the past few years on improving our fundraising and marketing. We have been trying to raise our profile, not just on campus, but around the area.” 

The team is made up of different subgroups. Captains Gan and Katcher oversee the work done by all the groups. The builders, led by Jed Edelstein (‘21), construct the robot from scratch. The coders, led by Devin Marcus (’22), focus on the autonomous portion of the game; they make sure the robot can move without anyone manually driving it. 

Ron Gneezy (‘21) leads the wiring team, who are “basically the middle ground between the code and the hardware,” explains Gan. Yin Wenduo (’22) leads the crew that sets up the field for practice, so they know the rule manual inside and out. 

The team has recently added Ariela Cohen (‘21) to their marketing team. Ariela, who joined in mid-September, describes her experience as “fun and interesting. I don’t think that people realize that there is more to it than coding.” 

One of the marketing team’s most recent projects was designing the annual hoodie. The team reaches out to donors every year, and wears their logos on the hoodie during competitions. Micheala Simble (21’), who is leading the marketing effort this year, joined the team during her freshman year. She describes her experience as, “a fun way to connect and learn from the people around me in an exciting environment.” 

 

Jessie & Jimmy for Robotics

Jimmy Lai (‘23) and President Jesse Gan (‘21) show off this year’s hoodie.  Photo by Ana Gerson (’21).

Excitement seems to be a common theme among team members when discussing their experience. Ariela Moel (‘22), team note-taker, describes the December 15th meet as “a collaborative team effort. You feel nervous. No one feels prepared because we don’t know which team will be paired with us, but we are always excited to find out.” 

Lions robot builders have competed in four meets this season. The final one was held on Sunday, February 9, in the SDJA gymnasium. Adviser Mr. Hagerman noted, “I was very proud of our team this meet. I think we had our best technical performances.” The team is continuing to work hard during their off-season, and are ready to score higher than ever in the coming year. 

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.