The Majestic Art Works of SDJA

A campus tour of the artistic works that brighten our campus with vibrant radiance and mystic Jewish values.

By Brannigan Stone *

For thousands of years, humans have been expressing themselves and drawing from their environment through art. This human characteristic has been passed down for generations, eventually lending itself to the San Diego Jewish Academy Community. With this creative outlet, our community has been able to create beautiful works of art for the school campus, placing an emphasis on what it means to be Jewish.

The Foot

SDJA Foot

A statue of a large foot, located in the Golda Meir lower school, shows the foot in mid-step. This stepping action signifies the families who took a chance, leaving their native countries to settle in San Diego. This sculpture showcases the bravery these families demonstrated as it is a life changing move to leave behind everything one knows in their old life, and take up one that is new and foreign. The foot was originally designed and sculpted by José Sacal. He titled his work First Step, and intended the piece to be surrounded by sharp and rugged rocks to show the difficulty of making the first step as an immigrant to a new country. San Diego was the symbolism for that new country where immigrants from Canada, Mexico, South Africa, and Israeli settled. However, the school opted to replace the rocks with something gentler, grass and flowers and smooth stones being more appropriate to the elementary school setting. According to SDJA Head of School, Chaim Heller, “It doesn’t change the message of the step onto new soil for immigrants, but it doesn’t have the same association with the tragedy, pain, and suffering.” 

Levana’s Garden

Levana's Garden Gate

Nature, although mysterious, is a beauty that cannot go unacknowledged, especially for its artistic finesse. In the hopes of seeking this beauty on our campus, one should look no further than Levana’s Garden, across from our middle school quad. This garden doesn’t just have history, but a spiritual presence that gives its visitors a sense of well being upon entering through its decorated gates. 

Upon entry, one sets out on a mystical journey with rainbow turtles, beautiful matriarchs, and symbolic quotes. With each step, they are a witness to the beauty of nature, and all of its facets. 

The Four Matriarchs 

Four Matriarchs

Within sight distance of The Foot, near the entrance to Levana’s Garden, the Four Matriarchs of Judaism stand in commemoration of the four matriarchs of the Torah. These include Sarah, Rachael, Rebekah, and Leah, showcasing the communal aspect of our community, as well as our journey and the survival of the Jewish people. The communal aspect is symbolized in the giving of the water portrayed by the matriarchs and how much of a role women play in nourishing our community. 

Trash Cans 

Trash Cans

The trash cans in the Maimonides Upper School used to serve solely as the dumping grounds for trash and lunchtime leftovers. These waste containers were given little thought until SDJA art teacher Elizabeth Nebo got the idea that they might become something more than that. She saw the surface of the bins as a canvas, rather than an ordinary facility unit. Ms. Nebo, with the help of her students, busted out the paint and brushes, and got to work. This installation has inspired positive feedback from the student body, including Nathaniel Manner, who admires the “different colors and vibrancy they bring to our campus.””

The Butterflies 

Butterflies

The entire SDJA campus – from the walls of the administration building to the Upper School office is adorned with butterflies. Each butterfly signifies a child killed during the Holocaust. These butterflies were created and painted by members of the San Diego community, and symbolize a project that is greater than just the SDJA community, one that includes other Jewish schools and communities. The idea for the butterfly project came from a film called Paperclip, and it spread to becoming butterflies that decorate our campus. The butterflies are some of the most popular decorations among the high school students and teachers, with Brendan Marx (’22) and Mark Zaga (’21) appreciating “all the pretty colors, and the positive essence the butterflies bring to our campus to remind us of the fallen children of the Holocaust.” 

The Menorah 

SDJA Menorah

The Menorah is one the most popular defining symbols of Judaism. Its 6 distinctive branches, and middle shammash, are symbolic parts of the piece representing Jewish life. As a Jewish school, the San Diego Jewish Academy built this piece to represent our progress and Jewish identity. We began this process as one of five Jewish schools that participated in a project called Jewish Day School 2000. The idea of this program was to figure out what the future of Jewish schools would be like. At the time, the schools involved, including SDJA, vowed to create a high school as they were all K-8 schools at the time. To commemorate this dream, the schools each constructed their own sculptures with the Jewish Academy creating a menorah. 

Just as the menorah commemorates this idea of Jewish progress, we ourselves can look towards the artworks on our campus, and appreciate them for their Jewish influences. widening our view by admiring their details as we migrate back towards our spiritual roots. 

* All artworks photos by Brannigan Stone (’21)

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.