It is not, repeat, not, color war.
Then what was the weeklong fever at the Frisch School, when students worked with excitement and intensity well into the night?
It was Shiriyah, a mega multidisciplinary event that not only celebrates school spirit and Torah knowledge, but also engages the 630 high school students in grade and school unity by using art, song, dance, and drama to underscore Frisch values of academic excellence, religious growth, kindness, and compassion.
Capped by the finale that took place on January 14, and that drew thousands to the Paramus campus — in addition to scores of alumni who watched the livestream from universities across the country and from Israel — Shiriyah 5776 was another triumph, declared students, parents, administrators, and other fans.
“This week’s event is a success story of Jewish project-based learning,” wrote Corey Berman, a former Frisch student from Fair Lawn who now is studying in Israel before heading to the University of Pennsylvania, in a recent blog post on the Times of Israel.
“Shiriyah doesn’t compromise Frisch’s academic standards — it enhances the education,” Mr. Berman wrote. “It makes the learning meaningful and makes it count. It makes sure every student has a Jewish experience where he or she can interact with the texts and bring them to life in his or her unique way. It teaches the intellect while stimulating the heart and soul of Judaism.”
Every year, each grade is assigned a Torah or Jewish theme that must be woven into every presentation they produce, which includes a colorful mural decorating one of the walls of the building, thematic installations of the school’s corridors, videos, a stomp (dance with accompanying drum beat), a slow song, and a fast song.
This year’s themes celebrated K’dushat z’man — the sanctification of time. Each grade had to bring the theme to life. Freshmen were assigned the yamim noraim — the High Holy Days; sophomores, shalosh regalim — the three festivals that mandated a pilgrimage to Jerusalem; juniors, Chanukah and Purim; and the seniors, Shabbat. To help lead the charge, each grade had two generals and at least four captains. (Full disclosure: My son, Yehuda Davis, was among the sophomore captains.) The students must also fundraise, buy supplies, and lead their teammates into coming up with ideas and executing them.
Needless to say, the intensity that surrounded the creation of this year’s Shiriyah was impressive.
“I stopped into Frisch numerous times [during the week] and was fascinated to see the level of student engagement and participation,” said Lauren Green, whose daughter, Haley, was a freshman captain. “Students were working on elements of hallway decorating, practicing music, filming and editing videos, all the while smiling, laughing, and enjoying the camaraderie. The thing that resonated most was the concentrated time the school devoted, amid a highly rigorous academic course load, to teamwork and collaboration. This is what Shiriyah is all about, at its core.”
Yehuda Hammerman, an 11th-grade captain, said, “Shiriyah shows the incredible unity in our grade that always exists but really comes to a head during this crazy week. It’s a really good feeling as a member of my grade, and a captain, to see all of us do whatever it takes to pull through and create incredible things together.”
Eitan Kastner, now a member of Frisch’s history department who graduated from the school in 2000, said, “I loved Shiriyah as a student and got involved in as much as I could. It is so much bigger and better now. Every student has an opportunity to find some sort of creative outlet that might be missed if this was just a normal week of school.”
Shiriyah began more than 22 years ago as a singing competition. It started to take its current shape in the early 2000s when Rabbi Eli Ciner, now the school’s principal, took over as director of student activities. With each year it has grown in scope and popularity, and at the same time it has fostered a deep passion among the Frisch community.
Mr. Berman wrote in his Times of Israel blog:
“Often in Modern Orthodox Jewish education, a heavy focus is placed on teaching information, to the exclusion of teaching to students’ hearts and souls. Teachers usually get up in front of the classroom and give over information: Biblical verses, commentators’ interpretations, halachic regulations, and vocabulary. More rare are opportunities to focus on the heart, to try to make texts meaningful and relevant. And scarcely (if ever) are the two done at the same time. Rav Kook, however, writes that we need education of the heart in conjunction with education of the intellect. Without both aspects, we risk only getting halfway to the goal, never becoming the whole individual of our potential.