More Than Football

A look at how the SDJA community rallied behind the Lions following the Pittsburgh tragedy

By Joseph Vilenski (’19)

“They’ve got their guy! We’ve got ours!” said Mr. Larry Cobb, San Diego Jewish Academy bus driver, as he held up a Moses action figure. On November 10, 2018, the SDJA football team, for the first time in eleven years, was on the way to their playoff game against their longtime rivals, the Calvin Christian Crusaders. The Lions, having lost to Calvin earlier in the year, were on the prowl. Cornerbacks sniffed out screens and defensive tackles scarfed down inside runs. Ruben Veinbergs (‘19), Quarterback, hunted down the opposing corners, while Moi Kanarek’s (‘20) shifty moves left the crusader linebackers tackling thin air.

Larry Cobb’s Action Figure Photo: Joseph Vilenski (‘19)

SDJA took an early lead against Calvin Christian at the half. However, it was the Crusaders turn to run up the scoreboard. By the mid-fourth quarter, they had almost completed their astounding comeback with the score being 30-36. With a few minutes still left on the board, it was 4th and 2. Lion’s ball. A first down iced the victory.  SDJA star running back Moi Kanarek (‘20) recalls how he groaned in pain before the next play. Battered and bruised, he fumbled the ball after a 15-yard 1st down run, which gave Calvin a shot to tie the game up in the remaining seconds. However, the defense stepped up and assured the win after an offensive pass interference call against Calvin. “It felt like the end,” Kanarek says now. “It felt like the end of our season. It felt horrible because we had made it so far,” he said, concluding that “it was probably one of the best days and the worst days of my life.”


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The following week, on November 12th,  the Lions played a tough game against the Foothills Christian Knights, but unfortunately came up short of winning the championship. The stands showed unwavering support for the Lions down to the end. Despite the loss, the 2019 SDJA football team brought the community together like no other. Gabriel Simpser (‘21) described it as a “privilege to belong to such a close group that accomplished so much and made history.” The following Monday, in the 3A Hebrew 8 class, Morah Yedid expressed what the playoff run truly meant to her and the school. “Yosef (Joseph Vilenski (‘19), Defensive Lineman) and Yoshua (Josh Nachassi (‘19), Linebacker), please stand up… Never in all my years at this school, have I seen the school community so united,” said Moriah Yedid. “Yes, I was cold the whole time and I don’t understand football, but I want to congratulate you guys for making it so far and for showing people what SDJA really stands for,” she continued.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Around 200 people from the community showed up to see the Lions play. Teachers, students, alumni, parents, relatives, and even Rabbi Ezagui from Chabad La Jolla and members of his congregation all gathered to watch the Lions play. Jack Hanlon (‘21), O-lineman on the team, described the energy at the game as “electric.” Whenever the Lions would make a play, or gain momentum, the crowd would let out a deafening roar. The occasional “Let’s go Lions!” would boost the player’s spirits tenfold. Josh Barforough (‘19) felt that “the game brought us together as a community… it did mean something to me”.

Lions crowd showing support Photo: Sally Eichner

A week prior to the final, Rabbi Ezagui himself visited the SDJA campus give the football team a blessing. The Rabbi handed each player a Kippah to wear under their helmets as a sign of their faith. “Listen, the Jews, the Maccabees, were winners, and so you guys will be winners as well,” said Rabbi Ezagui. “Even if the score is not in your favor, making it this far is winning the respect and admiration from the rest of San Diego. You guys are proving your strength in the wake of an atrocious event done to the Jewish people.”

The event that Rabbi Ezagui was referring to was the shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, PA on October 27, 2018. This baseless act of hatred left Jewish communities all over the United States reeling. The players, the audience, and even the opponents had similar feelings. Before the game against Calvin Christian, the Crusaders held a moment of silence for the people who lost their lives. Kicker, Eitan Breziner (‘20), Quarterback, Ruben Veinbergs (‘19), and a plethora of other players wrote down the names of the victims, the word “Pittsburgh,” and a Jewish star on their wrist tape to show their support. Moi Kanarek (‘20) said that it felt amazing to be able to represent the Jewish community through football.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Moi’s father, Bernardo Kanarek, nicknamed Patusi, shared the team’s sentiment to play for Pittsburgh. Patusi purchased over 100 shirts that said “Stronger than Hate,” the national slogan in support of the victims, for the crowd to wear during the game. Kanarek also bought wristbands with the same slogan for the players to wear during their final game. “This game changed the school,” said Josh Barforough (‘19) “It definitely made us feel all together and people had their Pittsburgh shirts too. It was good for us a Jewish community to get together.”

Lions celebrating their victory Photo: Sally Eichner

For the Lions, football became more than a game. It became an opportunity to represent their people after the tragedy in Pittsburgh. “Play for that J on your chest,” was the phrase Joseph Vilenski (‘19) said before both games. As one of the captains, he wanted the team to play for something bigger than themselves. That meant to show the world that even after a horrific event done against the Jewish people, like the shooting in Pittsburgh, the team will stand united as a brotherhood, a family. The pride felt by the Lions for who they were made them realize that these games had a deeper meaning. After the win versus the Crusaders, captain, Isaac Rosen approached Vilenski and said “I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but there was something more to that game. Something more than football.”

New School Year, New Me

Updates in School’s Schedule Changes Students

By Ariela Cohen (‘21)

A sea of San Diego Jewish Academy students smiled from ear to ear as soon as they received the news of the permanent late start. “This past year I got so much homework and had so many activities outside of school,” Alex Waiss (‘21) states, “however, now with school starting at 8:20 a.m. instead of 8:00 a.m. it helped me have a better experience at school.” This year SDJA implemented various changes which have created a better, fresher, and easier environment to successfully progress through the Maimonides Upper School. Mrs. Hansen, a humanities teacher, is enjoying the new schedule, saying “I just want my students to be happy.”

Samantha Veinbergs (‘21) also likes the new schedule. “I feel refreshed and more awake during my classes,” she said. “I know that it’s only twenty minutes, but it’s more than you think!” The additional time is helping students focus in their classes as well as be better organized. Ana Gerson (‘21) added, “I don’t understand how the seniors and juniors went through sophomore year without this extra time.”

Students aren’t the only ones that enjoy the later starts. Mrs. Hansen states, “It has enabled a calmer start to the day and it also seems like the days are less frantic.”

Another change the school made was taking a few minutes off of Minyan. Maiya Hirshhorn (‘20) explained, “Last year I felt like it was too long. As it would come close to the end of Minyan, I could tell students were dozing off. It’s a change the school certainly needed and I’m glad they made it.”



      Photo: Nicole Dondisch (‘21)              Photo: Ariela Cohen (‘21) 

However, not all these changes left every student feeling happier to be at school. To accommodate for the late start, there are now three POD periods a week rather than four. This upset many students, who complained about not having enough time to meet with teachers or get work done. “Most students are complaining about the new POD schedule,” Kelsey Grolman (‘21) commented. “At the beginning, I didn’t like it either,” she says. “However, now I think that this year, with these POD limitations, I have learned how to manage my time better.” Parker Goodman (‘21) agrees. He doesn’t like the schedule because, “If you have a test on Tuesday, you have to ask teachers questions on Thursday the previous week.”

Overall, the changes to the daily routine have helped students have a better school experience. Shaye Youngleson (‘20) comments that it has been “a new school year, and a new me.”

The Golden Rule of Deaf Culture

How The Hearing-Impaired Are Treated vs. How They Should be

By Ariela Moel (’22)

San Diego Jewish Academy student Rena Novom (‘22) sits in Mrs. Hansen’s classroom during POD talking to her computer screen. However, there is no sound coming from her mouth. But how? Through an online class with Brigham Young University, made accessible by SDJA, Novom has been able to spend her first semester as a freshman studying American Sign Language (ASL), a language carefully crafted for English-speaking deaf people in North America. “Learning a unique language that isn’t spoken through verbal words has been incredible,” says Novom, who enjoys communicating in ASL with her online instructor.

People who are hard of hearing or fully deaf often struggle with the way society treats them. At a restaurant, for instance, people often talk slower and with more emphasis when they learn that someone is deaf. Because of this treatment, some deaf people try to hide the fact that they cannot hear.

“ASL” in sign language executed by Natalie Goldwasser (‘22) and Ella Diamond (‘20) Photo: Ariela Moel (’22)

Despite some common misconceptions about whether or not deafness impairs normal, everyday abilities, such as driving, research from the University of Sheffield shows that deaf people from ages above 15 have 20% better peripheral vision than those who are not deaf, making them more aware of their surroundings. In addition, when licensed to drive, they are supplied with alert systems in their cars for the situations when ambulances need to pass by. Although research supports their abilities, deaf people have had to fight for their right to drive their whole lives.

Many hearing people feel pity for deaf children, but why? Jimmy Cohen (‘22) feels sympathy for people who are hard of hearing “because they can’t hear, obviously.” But many are unaware that some deaf people actually appreciate their difference and express a well-known pride in their linguistic culture since it has helped form them into the people they are today.  

To feel more comfortable, some deaf people go to clubs designed for people like themselves. Most SDJA students interviewed for this article were unaware that such places exist. However, deaf clubs are not hard to find in the San Diego area. One is even as close as UCSD. Eliza Kolmanovsky from the UCSD ASL Club stated that the club is open for anyone—ASL-speaking, deaf, or hard of hearing. The club meets for weekly hangouts which include “Silent Game Nights.” These events provide an environment where San Diegans—hearing impaired or not—can join together as a community. “Anyone interested is welcome to come,” Kolmanovsky states. “Once a quarter, we try to organize ASL performance nights or invite deaf panelists.” Deaf clubs are a very important part of deaf culture because they allow deaf students and people to communicate and have fun together.

Some people might incorrectly assume that the only language for the hard of hearing is ASL.  “I only know ASL exists, I’ve never thought of other countries using sign language in a different way,” said Talia Abu (‘22). In fact, there are over 200 different sign languages around the world. People in China, Israel, Argentina, and Japan all communicate using their own unique sign languages. Some believe that a universal sign language would unite the deaf community, however, there are those who contend that such a language would eliminate the enjoyable cultural learning experience that different sign languages provide.

Deaf people can do most things that hearing people can. By knowing and understanding deaf culture, it is easier to know how deaf people appreciate being treated. The few aspects that have been mentioned are only a small part of deaf culture, but knowing the basics is vital. According to OCDeaf, an organization for the hearing impaired based in Orange County, there are over 3 million deaf people in California alone. Given this fact, SDJA students need to be aware of how to appropriately treat their deaf neighbors.

Lions Weigh In on Duck Boat Danger

By Dalia Benson (‘19)

In the last 20 years, 41 people in the United States and Canada alone have died while riding duck boats. Many of these vessels sunk during storms, while others crashed on the road because of their low land speeds and large blind spots.

On July 19, 2018, a duck boat sank on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri. The vessel, which carried 31 people, capsized during a storm with high winds. Unfortunately, 17 people died due to their not so fun day on the lake.

What do duck boats have to do with Jewish Lions from San Diego? On some school trips, San Diego Jewish Academy students and teachers have ridden these duck boats as a form of entertainment and tourism. Who knew that these vessels were also potentially dangerous?

In 2017, the current senior class traveled to Washington D.C. on their 11th-grade student trip. There, students explored parts of the nation’s capital on a duck boat tour with the company D.C. Duck Tours. When asked about their experience, many students said that they felt quite secure while aboard. Josh Nachassi (‘19) remarked, “I don’t think these boats are at all dangerous,” and Annabelle Simble (‘19) agrees. “I felt safe,” she says. “They have been running a long time, and they have the engineering to make them safe.”

screen shot 2019-01-16 at 2.39.24 pm
Class of 2019 riding on a duck boat during their Washington D.C. trip last year. Photo: Moriah Seymann (‘19)

Duck boats were originally designed as transportation for amphibious units in World War II.  Nowadays, however, they primarily used to give tourists some fun. “It is interesting that what we used in war is now used for entertainment,” states Tikva Velasquez (‘19). While there haven’t been many major improvements on these boats since the war, necessary ones, such as life jackets, have been implemented. Seth Novom (‘19) says, “they were not designed for safety but I think some recent updates have made them safer.” However, these changes may not have made these boats safe enough.

SDJA history teacher, Dr. Cunningham, accompanied the juniors on their voyage to Washington D.C. and rode the boat alongside his students. He states that he did not know about the dangers associated with duck boats. “Knowing the dangers I think it is likely that I would not have encouraged it,” says Dr. C, “but honestly I did not really look deep into their issues. Had I known I would have done more research.”

After the tragedy that claimed 17 lives in Branson, Missouri, the question some may ask is whether or not these duck boats are safe for our students. Daniel Acks (‘19) says, “I think that they are OK to ride for recreational use as long as they are in good condition.” His classmate, Josh Nachassi (‘19) agrees, saying, “I won’t let fear of death prevent me from living.” Overall, knowing of the tragedy in Branson, students will be more cautious and informed when it comes riding duck boats. Still, many will not let the fear of a tragedy hinder them from experiencing a fun day of touring the land and sea. Given the school’s excellent safety record on student trips, we expect nothing less than smooth sailing in the future.

SDJA Rocks Out

SDJA unveils a new sensory garden 

By Ella Diamond (’20)

In November, many students asked what the rocks in the quad were for. Construction workers drove forklifts and other construction vehicles all over campus delivering and transporting these giant rocks. But why?

These rocks were the first of many steps in creating a sensory garden for SDJA’s Kindergarten and first-grade class. The board of the lower school has been working on this idea since last August and plans for construction were finalized in September. Shani Abed, San Diego Jewish Academy administrator and teacher initially told The Lions’ Den that the project would be completed no later than December, but recent rains have forced a slight delay.

Screen Shot 2018-12-20 at 3.14.53 PM
Progress on the sensory garden as of December 18, 2018. Photo: Ella Diamond (‘18)

A sensory garden is an environment designed to stimulate the five senses in order to teach lower school children to understand how to communicate with the world around them. The school’s new garden will feature several educational surfaces such as chalkboards, magnetic boards, two knitting boards, and tables where kids shape objects from clay, upon which students can discover their creativity through artistic projects. For some students who might not be so artistically inclined, the garden will also include stepping stones, a small tree house, and a reading area, offering students a variety of places to direct their energy.

Screen Shot 2018-12-20 at 3.14.07 PM
Planning is everything; the blueprint for the sensory garden. Photo: Shani Abed

SDJA loves to improve the school. Almost every year, the school takes on a new project to reach new levels of excellence. In 2017, the school rebuilt the preschool playground. This year, the school wants to improve the kindergarten and first grade with the sensory garden.

Many students wish they could have experienced a sensory garden during their time in elementary school. “Having a sensory garden when I was younger would have encouraged me to learn more,” Micaela Hayes (‘22) says, “it would have also helped me pay more attention to what we were learning.”

School is generally thought of as a place full of desks in classrooms. For 5-7 year-olds, the traditional classroom experience can actually hinder their ability to absorb information. Experts believe that children learn best when teaching aligns with their natural excitement, energy, and curiosity.

Geena Benson (‘21) sees the value in having an oasis like the garden. “It is very necessary for kids at this age to experience learning outdoors.” Benson says, “today, many kids don’t go outside as much. They spend all day in classrooms and then they come home to play video games.”

Edudemic, an online organization that gives helpful advice to teachers and students, believes that the best way for kids to learn is through hands-on, active learning. When teachers use activities that make learning engaging and fun, the students are more willing to participate. Having fun while learning also helps young learners retain information better because the process is memorable and enjoyable. SDJA’s new sensory garden will make this a reality on campus.

Lives at Risk: Lettuce Discuss this Further

By Gaby Wellman (‘20)

After several cases of E. coli O157: H7 contamination, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued a nationwide ban on all Romaine lettuce on November 20, 2018. After further investigation, the warning has been limited to Romaine lettuce growing in California.

Despite the fact that there are four other types of lettuce, the limited availability and the elevated prices on this heavily sought-after product persist.

Despite the catastrophe, San Diego Jewish Academy students like Kate Aizin (‘22) had a comical reaction. She says, “What are they gonna get rid of next, kale!?” However, the Internet is overflowing with a bounty of stories with people that have had life-changing and difficult experiences because of this E. coli outbreak. One of these victims is Karen Odens, who contracted E.Coli and died. Additionally, 4 years earlier her 4-year-old daughter had contracted the same disease.

The outbreak has had an especially troublesome effect on one of SDJA’s own students, Eli Lerner (‘22). “My turtle is dying,” he said, “and there is nothing I can do about it.”

Screen Shot 2018-12-20 at 2.57.20 PM
Lemmy the turtle eating romaine lettuce, the only food he likes. Photo: Eli Lerner (‘22)

Eli and Lemmy grew up together ever since Eli was seven years old. When Lemmy was first introduced into Eli’s life, Eli found great difficulty in feeding him. He tried to nurture his new pet by feeding him many fruits and vegetables but the only thing that the turtle would eat was Romaine lettuce.

“The worst part is, Lemmy was a miracle turtle,” says Gil Zucker-Abudi (‘22). A few months after the Lerner family purchased Lemmy, the turtle was diagnosed with cancer. He was not expected to live more than a few months. However, contrary to the doctor’s belief, Lemmy survived and thrived.

The future does not look bright for Lemmy. “If romaine lettuce is the thing that kills him,” Lerner said, “then his battle against cancer will have been for nothing.”

As of this writing, the E. Coli warning has been expanded to include cauliflower. Some news sources have traced the outbreak to farms in Arizona. As for Lemmy, there is nothing more to do now than to hope that the Romaine lettuce situation quickly returns to normal. Hopefully, consumers will soon be able to shop for their favorite vegetables again without fear. 

Meanwhile, lettuce pray for Lemmy the turtle.

Students in AP Studio Art Take on Human Surrealism

By Tali Gold (’20)

This November, the AP Studio Art class took on the task of creating either a 2D or hand-drawn representation of Human Surrealism. Their assignment was to transform the human form into something inhuman.

The AP Studio Art class offers professional freedom to all of its students by providing a topic and then allowing the creativity to flow as students venture out into realms of the imagination. “Most of the students have a background in art,” says Tali Eichner (‘20), “there’s a lot more adventuring that we can do because you have all of the basic platforms and you can find what your strengths and weaknesses are. With those strengths, you can choose to pursue it.”

The Human Surrealism project was one that forced students to think critically. They selected two aspects, one of the human body and one of their own choosing, and combined them to create a new idea. When asked what she thought of the assignment, Maiya Hirschhorn (‘20) answered by saying that it “allowed me to be creative in a very different way. I was able to take different body parts, different animals, and different things in general and make them my own.”


Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 2.39.52 PM
“Heart Air Balloon” Photo: Alice Vilenski (‘20)

All of the students took different approaches when conveying their interpretation of the assignment. Alice Vilenski (‘20), a drawing student, drew a “heart air balloon,” saying that love, along with the hot air balloons that are constantly floating near her house inspired her to create this drawing.

On the other side of the class’ spectrum, Tali Eichner, a 2D student, created an “exposed spine” on Tali Gold (‘20) by using body paint to create realistic skeletal imagery on her face and throat. She was inspired by the recent Halloween festivities. “I tried to do it on myself and failed.” she said, “so when Ms. Nebo assigned this project, I thought I would go ahead and try it on someone else.”

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 2.40.20 PM
“Exposed Spine” Photo: Tali Eichner (‘20)

Each of the students had different inspiration for their projects. Ana Gerson (‘21) used Photoshop to superimpose an image of Froot Loops onto a photo of Ilan Leisorek to represent his brain. Gerson got the idea for her project from a phrase she has heard her father use: Tienes Frooti Loopis en vez de cerebro, which means “You’ve got Froot Loops instead of brains!” Other student artists, like Maiya Hirschhorn (‘20), also drew on personal inspiration. She chose to depict a lion with hands as its mane because her father used to call her his “lion” due to her big, curly hair.

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 2.55.38 PM
The President’s brain on Froot Loops Photo by Ana Gerson (’21)

All of the students’ colorful responses to the Human Surrealism project offer a fine demonstration of how AP Studio Art gives aspiring artists an opportunity to think outside the box and express themselves in brand new ways. People interested in seeing more of these brilliant works are invited to attend SDJA’s annual Showcase Night on February 24, 2018. Hope to see you there!