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. 

 

1917, or: The Great War Against Repetition

Director Sam Mendes creates a stunning retelling of events in WWI – elevated to untold heights by its crew

Movie Review by Ron Gneezy (‘21)

In recent years, as film-making technology has grown exponentially in quality — both in restoring old footage and in creating stunning new imagery — recreations of the Great War have begun to seem as numerous as the Westerns of old. Yet even in this ever-filling pool of blood, discarded shells, and dust of the trenches, Sam Mendes’s 1917 manages to swim to the top.

The sight of the trenches, the horrors of mustard gas, and the hail of machine-gun fire, while all harrowing images, are now known by people throughout the world through innumerable films, documentaries and mini-series. Mendes, however, has created a new story, drawing on war stories told to him by his grandfather to create a wholly new journey which, while not 100% faithful to any one story from the war, weaves a stunning image of the bravery, valor, and persistence displayed by so many dedicated soldiers on both sides.

Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes, director and writer of 1917, who was inspired by his grandfather’s stories of the Great War

1917’s greatest trait is one that cannot be understood without actually watching the movie, and is what won it the illustrious Academy Award for Best Achievement in Cinematography: the movie is shot in such a way that, if the viewer isn’t paying too much attention, it seems to all be composed of two very long shots.

The genius of cinematographer Roger Deakins shines through in a way seen in very few movies before — the most recent successful example being 2014’s Birdman. He has managed to make each shot flow into the next so that the cut is hidden behind natural elements of the scene — be it a spin around a soldier’s legs, the jostle of a backpack, or the walls of a trench. By the end of the film, the viewer feels as though they have been exhausted by the same trek to the new German front made by the film’s protagonist.

Roger Deakins

Roger Deakins, cinematographer for 1917, winner of the 2020 Academy Award for Achievement in Cinematography

George MacKay’s Lance Corporal Schofield is the prototypical model of the British soldier in WWI — for better and for worse. He values his nation above all else, and sees his mission only as saving as many British soldiers as possible, no matter the cost. While this yields great heroic moments where he charges over the walls of the trenches just to deliver his orders, it also leads to a harrowing scene where, to keep the enemy from being alerted to his presence, he has to smother a young German soldier, slowly suffocating him to at least the point of unconsciousness, if not death.

Mendes’s meticulously crafted storyline displays, above all else, the horrors of war — officers sending soldiers to their deaths by the hundreds for the sake of the fight, a pilot fighting to his last breath simply to kill an enemy, and seeing one’s brothers-in-arms die in their arms. Mendes’ achievement is that he has created a unique, top-quality story of the Great War, while never glorifying these sorts of bloody conflicts.

 

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. 

Innovation Sensation!

Technological Advances Strike SDJA

By Ariela Moel (‘22)

 

Hidden below the old library area in the school’s A building secretly lies a little-known gem of  San Diego Jewish Academy. This beneficial learning environment boasts abundant technology and holds the key to innovation. What is this incognito luxury? The virtual reality lab! Even though it is relatively unknown now, students will soon become more familiar with the technological wonderland that SDJA has to offer. 

Mr. Kwaku Aning, director of the school’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Thinking (CIET), gave students new opportunities when his lab debuted in 2018, and again when he developed a new station located in the art room which followed it the next year. Both labs give students the ability to draw, create, and learn through artificial intelligence and augmented reality. Sophomore Rena Novom (‘22), has recently joined an art class in which she uses the VR. Rena mentions that VR lets her “manipulate the art form more than in a real-life situation.” 
VR Lab #1

Mr. Aning’s captivating VR Station, full of opportunities for SDJA’s students. Picture by Ariela Moel (‘22)

And this is only a small percentage of the enhancements SDJA has developed since the beginning of this school year. Other than the wonders which the virtual reality lab brings to the community, there have been other modifications made to the robotics team, classes added to the MS and HS curricula, and a newly established MS robotics program. As Jessie Gan (‘21), co-captain, along with Noah Katcher (’20), of the “7609 Lions” robotics team, mentions, the team has recently “taken advantage of the 3D printers.”  She notes that “now, more people on the team have those marketable 3D printing skills needed for our robotics use.”

Though unknown to many students, the VR labs are a school treasure. Whether it comes to building a 3D art model in Google Tilt Brush, an application made specifically for painting in new perspectives, or simply playing a game, students are allowed to see the unique window of high tech that is the VR.

Anyone interested in visiting one of the labs simply has to reach out to him. As Mr. Aning mentions, “We have several headsets (wired and wireless) and students can always email me if they would like to meet me during POD to try it out and explore how it works.”  

As if this VR station were not enough, Ms. Nebo has created a second VR lab, this one located in the art studio. When asked how it has improved SDJA’s art department, Ms. Nebo explains that “In the visual art class, we start off with a lot of paper and pencil and painting, kind of the more traditional art techniques and I think a lot of kids are intimidated by that because they don’t think of themselves as artists, and I feel like the VR gives them a different way to be able to express themselves.” With the implementation of the Occulus Quest, a type of VR headset, Ms. Nebo and her students have been able to benefit from the wireless technology.

VR Lab #2
Ms. Nebo’s new virtual reality headset which helps create student masterpieces. Picture by Ariela Moel (‘22)

Although virtual reality is exciting, it is not the only type of innovation at SDJA. “I think that when you challenge kids, you challenge students to try something new, and there’s a camaraderie that comes out of that,” says Mr. Marc Muroff, the AP Computer Science Principles teacher. When asked what innovations he has seen this year at SDJA, he responded, “I think SDJA offering two middle school programming classes and a full-year robotics class is very innovative.” Most people have generalized the word ‘innovation’ to be strictly technological, yet this isn’t so. As Mr. Muroff suggests, innovations can include allowing young students to take a leap into the world of experimental thinking in class and in the outside world.

The leaders in CIET have recently implemented a few new technologies at SDJA. After being asked about the upcoming projects or ideas for the school, Mr. Aning mentioned a new innovation center. “The plans are to create a space here on campus where students can conceive, create, and present new innovations in addition to incorporating these innovation skills into their school work,” he states.

Luckily, SDJA’s faucet of technology doesn’t stop running there. As well as the innovation center, there have been many new components in CIET. “I have seen a lot of amazing things this year!” Mr. Aning exclaims. “This include kindergarten students using AR to share their research about young activists with their parents, 5th-grade students using AI to develop adaptive solutions for people with disabilities, and high school students researching escape rooms to learn about film making, storytelling, and math,” 

The many opportunities that SDJA offers its students are nothing short of sensational. As Ms. Alicia Johal, CIET assistant director, mentions, “Teachers and students across campus have done some amazing work to embed innovative teaching practices into their curriculum. I have been excited by all of it – augmented reality experiences, virtual reality, robotics, creative video productions, podcasting, coding, and more!”

So many cutting edge additions to the school in such a short time confirm San Diego Jewish Academy as an authentic innovation sensation. As SDJA continues thinking creatively, the school community can look forward to even more progress and improvements in the near future. Stay tuned!

 

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.