Shining Bright

December 8, 2017
On Tuesday evening, December 12, Jews around the globe will light the first Chanukah candle.  Amongst the latkes, dreidels, sufganiyot and gelt there is a story of courageous people with tremendous faith who were witness to a great miracle.

The story we learn often jumps right to the end, to the rededication of the Temple and the miracle of the oil.  However, the events leading up to that moment tell us so much about the people of our past — their courage, faith and perseverance.

In the year 168 B.C.E., Antiochus IV, a tyrant and the Syrian ruler, ordered a series of harsh decrees against the Jews of Jerusalem. Jewish worship was forbidden, Torah scrolls were burned and Sabbath observance was outlawed.  Most Jews faced a terrible decision: conversion or death. One man, Judah Maccabee, was willing to stand up for his rights.  He fled to the hills of Jerusalem with his brothers and sons and called for all courageous Jews to join him. This small group of Jews formed a mighty army.  King Antiochus tried many times to defeat them. Finally, he sent his army of 40,000 men but they were unsuccessful, defeated by the Maccabees yet again.  Ultimately, Antiochus relented and the Temple in Jerusalem was returned to the Jews.  It was there that the miracle of the oil materialized.

There are so many lessons that can be learned from this moment in history.  What resonate most strongly are lessons about deliberate actions in the process of change.  James Baldwin, an American writer and social activist, said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced”. This idea seems so true as it relates to the story of Chanukah and as it relates to our work at Paul Penna DJDS.  Judah Maccabee had no guarantee that he could change the course of history by defending his Jewish traditions and standing up to the Syrian forces.  However, what he must have known was that by doing nothing, he had no chance of defeating Antiochus and returning Jerusalem and the Temple to the Jewish people.

At Paul Penna DJDS we have a faculty who are not averse to facing challenges and jumping in with heart in order to grow and improve.  Our faculty knows, like the Maccabees did, that the only way to make change for the better is to stand up against the status quo and be courageous in their planning and teaching.

One way we have deliberately faced our challenges this school year is through professional development. From August through December our faculty has engaged in over 35 hours of professional development.  What did we do with all of that time?  How did we ensure that we used it wisely and looked to face modern educational challenges in the best ways that we could?

Our professional development has had four major foci: building classroom community, using technology effectively in the classroom, developing rich and differentiated unit studies and further generating practices to ensure our school is inclusive, respectful and welcoming to all children who walk through our doors. We have worked as a full staff, in grade band groups and in pairs to think, learn and plan for the implementation of innovative classroom experiences.  As I walk through the school each day, I notice the impact of PD on teacher instruction and student learning.  It is so clear to me that our teachers have looked inwardly to genuinely self-evaluate and, in doing so, have embraced positive change.  Our students are clearly the lucky recipients of the enriched instruction.< Next week our faculty will have the last formal professional development opportunity of 2017. After our meeting we will gather together to light the chanukiah and remember the many lessons and miracles of the holiday.  Our faculty has worked hard this term.  Staff members have embraced me as a new principal and have been open-minded to change. To me, they shine bright like the Chanukah candles and are constant reminders of the the many miracles that happen as a matter of course each day within the walls of Paul Penna DJDS.