That was then, this is now
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That was then, this is now

Sunrise, sunset. Swiftly fly the years.

Sorry, but it’s hard to look at these photos of my daughter and two friends without starting to hum that heart-tugging yet hackneyed "Fiddler on the Roof" tune.

Just look at them on The Jewish Standard cover in August 1994, about to start kindergarten. And look at them now, about to enter their final year of high school. Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play?




Above and below, from left, Shlomit Gertler, Elana Leichman, and Joshua Markovic. PHOTOS BY JAMES L. JANOFF

But instead of getting all mushy, I prefer to rejoice with them in the excitement they feel near the end of a long educational road.

During the summer of 1994, Shlomit Gertler, Josh Markovic, and my daughter, Elana, were in the same backyard playgroup. Shlomit and Elana, friends and neighbors since birth, have kept in touch with Josh over the years. However, these three youngest siblings in their respective families never attended the same school.

Shlomit went to Yavneh Academy and now Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School; Elana went to The Moriah School and now The Frisch School; and Josh went to the Yeshiva of North Jersey and now Torah Academy of Bergen County.

I asked each of them what experiences stand out from the 1′ years of their yeshiva education, and I was fascinated to find that all of them, though good students, mentioned things that took place outside the classroom. What they seem to cherish most are memories of school as community.

For Shlomit, the pinnacle of her Yavneh days was the school’s intensive eighth-grade Holocaust studies unit, which culminates in a play written and performed by the entire grade, as well as the "amazing" class trip to Canada that year. In high school, she said, her most transformative experience was the seven weeks in Israel that Kushner offers its sophomores. "Those seven weeks definitely will have an affect on my decision about going to seminary" after high school, she said.

Josh, who is the incoming editor in chief of TABC’s weekly "Kol Torah" publication, said his fondest memory from YNJ was the eighth-grade trip to Baltimore and Philadelphia, where "everyone really came together." In high school, it was a junior-class trip to Ellis Island, which included investigating his family’s roots. "It showed me where I came from," he said.

Elana said she’ll never forget the holidays when the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades would sing Hallel together in Moriah’s beautiful synagogue. At Frisch, it has been the yearly Shiriya — an all-consuming week of "color war" between grades — that has touched her most. "The fact that the whole school comes together, and everyone pitches in, makes it a close time of huge grade-wide love," she said.

Given that the Gertlers, the Markovics, and we Leichmans have spent tens of thousands of dollars in tuition for these children, their answers at first gave me pause. But I realized they hold an important lesson.

The vital data their teachers imparted — from trigonometry to Talmud, biology to Bible study — helped shape our kids into knowledgeable Jews with a solid intellectual basis upon which to build careers, families, and responsible citizenship.

Yet every endeavor in life, if it is to be successful and fulfilling, must be achieved within the context of a community — a family, a neighborhood, a work or worship environment, a nation, a world.

Clich?d, but true: Even the endeavor of raising children takes not just parents but a "village." These young adults remind me that they are products also of the larger family of school — teachers, administrators, peers; the larger family of the Jewish people; the still larger family of society.

As a new academic year begins, we parents should pay attention to the myriad ways our children’s schools attempt to provide a community, and encourage those activities that build togetherness — "achdut," in Hebrew — apart from tests, grades, and homework.

If this is done successfully, then when they graduate from high school (seemingly faster than we can blink our eyes), they will have a diploma in their hands and a sense of belonging in their hearts.

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