An insight into learning in lockdown from our very own Director of Learning.
Our current generation of students have been labelled, wryly, as the ‘COVID Generation’. A generation of students who have navigated the disruption of the global pandemic with agility and resilience, utilising technology to meet their learning needs. These ‘generational’ attributes were evident as our students recently transitioned from the traditional classroom setting to Digital Bialik 4.0.
Whilst individual students may have had different experiences in the remote learning setting, our collective experience has been extremely positive. Our teachers have generated digital learning experiences that have ensured a rigorous continuum of learning from Prep through to Year 12. Learning has been targeted to meet the demands of the Victorian Curriculum and the needs of our students.
Our remote learning experience has shown that students demonstrate greater agency and independence as learners. Students have certainly been active participants in their learning, they have monitored their daily schedule, communicated with their teachers, and they have utilised a range of digital platforms, including Seesaw and MS Teams, to communicate and document their learning. They have also been adept at troubleshooting any technical issues that may have emerged.
Whilst we are physically disconnected during remote learning, Bialik has put into place wellbeing initiatives to ensure that students feel a sense of belonging. Students are invited to participate in the following opportunities as a way of staying connected with community members: lunchtimes with the Jewish Informal Team, Enhanced Homework Club, and the Feel Good Friday program. Increased collaboration in digital breakout rooms has also increased within the learning context to maximise student communication and interaction.
We are extremely grateful to our parents and guardians who have played an essential role in juggling their own commitments to ensure that their child’s home learning experience has been successful. Please continue to monitor correspondence from the College for the latest information concerning assessments, reporting, and a return to onsite learning.
Director of Learning
A holiday greeting from Principal Jeremy
Pesach (Passover) is the festival of so many things. It is Chag HaHerut, the festival of freedom (when the Israelites were led by Moses from slavery). It is Chag HaPesach, the festival when the pascal lamb (symboilised by the shank bone on the seder plate). Most famously it ChagHaMatzot, the festival of matza, or unleavened bread – the bread that did not have time to rise, such was the haste in the exodus.
Its final name is Chag HaAviv, the Festival of Spring. Given its position in the calendar, and the location of its events in the northern hemisphere, this makes sense.
Yet how do we in Melbourne, and we at Bialik, celebrate a Spring festival when, to paraphrase Game of Thrones, in our calendar Winter Is Coming.
Spring symbolises new growth, change and health, and as we emerge from the Covid winter, there is certainly light at the end of the tunnel. We have experienced the confines of lockdown and the freedom of emergence from it. We have experienced stocked pantries (and full cupboards of toilet roll) in preparation for challenges ahead. In the latest news from the Health Department, we will be permitted 100 people in our homes for Seder night – quite a seder!
So here we are, at the end of a vibrant term, normality returning, and hope on the horizon. With our Festival of Spring, our incredible Athletics Day today celebrating inclusion, determination, talent and resilience, and having watched an uplifting performance of The 39 Steps – a venture into comedic theatre for our students – we are now ready to take a break over the Pesach holidays, eat Matza, celebrate freedom and our own special version of Spring.
The Torah (Jewish Bible) describes the reaction of the Israelites to seeing an approaching Egyptian Army, whilst standing with their backs to the sea:
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites caught sight of the Egyptians advancing upon them. Greatly frightened, the Israelites cried out to the L-rd. And they said to Moses, “Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us be, and we will serve the Egyptians, for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness’?” (Exodus 14:10-12)
Regarding this, Ibn Ezra, comments:
One may wonder how [such] a large camp of six hundred thousand men would be afraid of those pursing after them. And why did they not fight for their lives and for their children? The answer is that the Egyptians were the Israelites’ masters. And [so] this generation that went out of Egypt learned from its youth to tolerate the yoke of Egypt and had a lowly image. And [so] how could they now battle with their masters? And Israel was [also] indolent and not trained in warfare. Do you not see that Amalek came with [only] a small group and were it not for the prayer of Moses, they would have overpowered Israel. And the only G-d, ‘who does great things’ and ‘for whom all plots are contemplated,’ caused that all the males of the people that went out of Egypt would die. As there was no strength in them to fight against the Canaanites, until a new generation, after the generation of the desert, arose. And they did not see exile and they had a [confident] spirit…
Fear had debilitated the Israelites to the extent that, even after their physical liberation, they could not fathom acting in a way that would further their freedom and improve their lives and those of their children. They did not merely view themselves as incapable of moving forward, but as being inherently unworthy of doing so. Literal slavery (the deepest layer of indecision a human can reach) was the default preference that resulted from such fear. In response to this inaction, Moses interceded:
But Moses said to the people, “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the L-rd will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. The L-rd will battle for you; you hold your peace!” Then the L-rd said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. And you lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it, so that the Israelites may march into the sea on dry ground.” (Exodus 14:13-16)
Moses, in contrast to the people, was not stricken with distress to the extent that slavery appeared preferable to having to confront the crisis at hand. His immediate response was instead an appeal to faith and prayer. G-d, however, was unwilling to accept faith as the only reaction to such a crisis. He demanded action as well. Nahshon ben Amminadab was the one who engaged. He jumped into the still raging waters, which ultimately prompted the miraculous splitting of the sea. The Talmud (Sotah 37a) describes his response, and elaborates on the conversation between G-d and Moses:
…this tribe said: I am not going into the sea first, and that tribe said: I am not going into the sea first. Then, in jumped the prince of Judah, Nahshon ben Amminadab, and descended into the sea first… And in this regard, the tradition, i.e., the Writings, explicates Nahshon’s prayer at that moment: “Save me, G-d; for the waters are come in even unto the soul. I am sunk in deep mire, where there is no standing…let not the water flood overwhelm me, neither let the deep swallow me up” (Psalms 69:2–3, 16). At that time, Moses was prolonging his prayer. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him: My beloved ones are drowning in the sea and you prolong your prayer to me? Moses said before Him: Master of the Universe, but what can I do? G-d said to him: “Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward. And you, lift up your rod and stretch out your hand” (Exodus 14:15-16). For this reason, because Nahshon and the tribe of Judah went into the sea first, the tribe of Judah merited to govern Israel.
It is not the case that Nahshon was unafraid. He was clearly terrified and very much aware of the mortal danger he was placing himself in. However, he recognized that to advance (in both an immediate and larger sense) and to live a life of meaning and purpose, one must take risks. It is also evident that his response included prayer, but Nahshon asked G-d to assist him in his actions, rather than relying upon G-d’s actions alone.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe understood Nahshon’s deed as an intergenerational mandate:
One man named Nahshon jumped into the sea, and caused the great miracle of the splitting of the sea. Technically, he was under no obligation to do so. Nevertheless, he knew that G‑d wanted Israel to move onward toward Sinai. Therefore, he did what he needed to do. There was a sea in his way. Therefore, he jumped into the sea and ploughed toward his goal. The lesson for all of us is that we must stay focused on our life’s mission, disregarding all obstacles. (Sicha, 10 Shevat 5716)
I recently experienced an incident, which, on a superficial level, was quite comparable to that of Nahshon’s. My family and I were on a daytrip to Flinder’s Blowhole, a beautiful natural wonder that includes steep cliffs leading down to a jagged coastline, replete with rocks and the white foamy spray of the Bass Strait. Whilst there, my two year-old son suddenly and unexpectedly jumped down into the water. Without time to process what had occurred, I jumped in after him. Three days later, I was out of hospital and my son and I were miraculously safely home. I say that my experience compares superficially to that of Nahshon, because, unlike him, I had no time to think about my course of action. There was no deliberation. I am thankful for that, as not having to consider the danger I was exposing myself to was certainly a concealed blessing. What is truly heroic is not split second decisions like mine, but those, like Nahshon’s, that include a full consideration of the implications and risks involved.
To be certain, caution is often wise. Every risk taken produces a potential rejection or failure that simply did not exist beforehand. However, superficial comfort in inaction when faced with significant decisions often prevents individuals from making hard choices and never taking risks is a definitive recipe for a stunted life. How tragic it is when we are enslaved by nightmares that are entirely the manifestations of our own thoughts. Ibn Ezra highlighted that the weakness of the generation of the exile from Egypt was primarily a product of their mindset. This is echoed in the words of Rabbi Dr Abraham Twersky who understood that, “Low self esteem means that a person is unaware of one’s strengths and abilities and hence underestimates oneself.” It is far too easy to limit self-perceptions of our potential, the parameters of which we can rarely fathom. Conversely, we often greatly minimise at best, and at worse simply accept the horrors of, the consequences of submission to the status quo. Nahshon is justifiably understood to be a hero, and whilst his actions were certainly valiant, they were also measured and rational. The alternative to plunging into the ocean was not comfort and safety, but rather slavery or death at the hands of the Egyptians. It was a textbook case of Zapata’s precept, “I would rather die on my feet, than live on my knees.”
Nahshon’s descendants in the Tribe of Judah merited to govern Israel because embracing calculated risk is the only way to move a person, or a people, forward. May we all merit to carry the spirit of Nahshon throughout our lives, to weather and learn from the blows of our personal oceans, and accept that whilst the water is fraught with danger, it is also the only route to our personal and collective freedom.
Director of Jewish Life
Every single Jewish victim of the Inquisition had already officially converted to Christianity; those refusing to convert being expelled from Spain shortly after the Inquisition began. Throughout almost every era in Jewish history, in almost every context, massive numbers of Jews have abandoned Judaism, and/or the Jewish people.
The Maccabi revolt was aimed at Hellenistic Jews as much as it was a war against the Syrian-Greek Empire. Every single Jewish victim of the Inquisition was a convert to Christianity, those refusing to convert having already been expelled from Spain. Moses Mendelsohn, the physical embodiment of the Jewish Enlightenment, did not have a single Jewish descendent and we all know that the great persecutors of Jews in our living memory, the Nazis and Soviets, counted amongst their victims no small number of Jews who hardly identified as Jewish.
The current rates of assimilation occurring throughout the Jewish world are not a break from Jewish history; they are the continuation of millennial old trends. When we speak about Jewish survival, we can only really speak about the survival of Judaism as maintained by a relatively small number of Jews who actively chose not to assimilate. Remaining Jewish is the conscious undertaking, not abandoning Judaism, which often requires little effort at all. At one point or another in a person’s life, staying Jewish necessitates a sacrifice. Sometimes that sacrifice is to remain or become the target of violence or discrimination. Sometimes that sacrifice is social or cultural. In other instances, it is financial.
Queen Esther faced her own personal test when she was informed of Haman’s intended annihilation of the Jews. Mordechai asked her to speak to King Ahasuerus, her husband, on her people’s behalf. This posed a problem for Esther. Esther (meaning hidden) was her non-Jewish or Persian name. Her true name was Hadassah, identifying her as a Jew and unknown to her husband. If unsuccessful, Esther’s appeal would certainly lead to her sharing the fate of other Jews, from which she was otherwise protected. Esther waivered when faced with that choice. Sensing her deliberation, Mordechai tells Esther, “Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the King’s palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish.”
Mordechai predicts that Esther will experience what all Jews who have attempted to ‘escape’ Judaism eventually learn. It is not possible. It does not work. All that occurs is that individuals and their descendants are detached from all of the beauty that Judaism could have otherwise brought to their lives. Despite that loss, the world still considers assimilated or even converted Jews to be Jews, subjecting them to the same fate, but without the wisdom of Judaism to help make sense of their suffering. Ultimately, Esther responds to Mordechai by declaring that she will, “…go to the King, though it be contrary to the law; and if I am to perish, I shall perish.” This is the moment when Esther became a hero of Jewish history.
Natan Sharansky is perhaps one of the greatest living embodiments of Mordechai and Esther’s spirit. Born in Ukraine during the Soviet era, Sharansky was a chess prodigy and rising star in the Soviet scientific community. He could, in theory, have hoped to receive all of the privileges Soviet society had to offer (although in reality such opportunities were rarely, if ever, afforded to even the most assimilated Soviet Jews). Instead, he chose to sacrifice everything in favour of his Jewish identity and apply for an exit visa to immigrate to Israel. Not only was Sharansky’s visa application denied, he was arrested and spent nine years in Soviet prisons. When asked if giving up everything he lost for his Jewish identity was worth it, Sharansky famously answered, “When Jews abandon identity in pursuit of universal freedom, they end up with neither.” After a massive international human rights campaign, Sharansky was released from prison and raised a family in Israel, serving as a government minister multiple times, as deputy prime minister and Executive of the Jewish Agency. Whilst the Soviet Union, one of the greatest institutional persecutors of Jews and their identity in the modern era is no more, Sharansky survives as a Jew with his head held high.
If we, like Esther and Natan Sharansky, realise that the best things in life are worth sacrificing for, that they are worth prioritising, our Judaism will not feel like a burden that limits our lives, but rather the flame at the centre that makes our lives worth living.
Director of Jewish Life
Summer has been a great time to be in Melbourne, and many of us have enjoyed a Staycation whilst other successfully navigated the travel restrictions over the summer. With great weather, reduced traffic and a holiday vibe, we have all been enjoying a well-earned break whilst preparing for an exciting year.
With the ELC having some exciting work planned over the next year – not least a rain garden, a new seated entrance area and a refurbished kinder play area, as well as the beginning of the scoping for a new Science and Technology provision, this is an exciting year as we enter 2021 with renewed positivity and confidence.
Last week was Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year for Trees (in Hebrew it isראש השנה לאילנות Rosh HaShanah La’llanot). As a Culture of Thinking, and as a school whose early years are inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to learning, we describe our environment as our ‘third teacher’.
I am delighted to introduce three new senior leadership roles to the community.
With Information Evenings in full swing this week and a campus full of busy and active learning, it has been a wonderful start to the year.
Elections are tricky. More often than not, a little under half of the people are bitterly disappointed in the outcome. For some, the grim reality of the person you most despise, becoming your leader, is almost too much to bear. Unsurprisingly we tend to question the very idea of democracy if it produces a result we don’t like. There may even be those who would do away with the vote altogether and keep a former leader in power indefinitely; a king of sorts.
In a world that now sees many leaders remaining in power for decades rather than years, it seems we are becoming more and more comfortable with appointing “kings” to rule over us. This is not a new challenge for the Jewish people. 3000 years ago the Israelites lamented their lack of an all-powerful ruler for whom the trivialities of the rule of law do not apply. The Israelites begged the prophet Samuel to have a king like all other nations, rather than the representative assembly they had been using up until that time. Samuel’s warning is as true then as it is to us today; be careful what you wish for.
Samuel reminded the Israelites that when we appoint powerful kings, who by definition are not answerable to the people, it may seem appealing at the start, but they will always take more and more power for themselves. “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you.” He will take your sons and daughters for his armies. He will take the best of your fields, vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his people. He will tax you for his own glory.
Indeed Samuel’s prediction rang true. King Saul went mad with power, King David at times used his power for personal gain and King Solomon expanded the empire on the backs of slaves and his sons’ squabbling led to a divided nation. Today, the lesson we take from this period, is that those who are appointed to rule, do so harshly. Yet those Jewish leaders whose roles saw them humbly serve the people, are remembered as the heroes of our nation: the reluctant leadership of Moshe Rabeinu, the vision of Ezra and Nechemiah, the practicality of Yohanan ben Zakai. Most recently, the tragic passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has been met by a palpable sense of loss throughout Jewish world. Rabbi Sacks is remembered so fondly not because of any power he wielded or control he held, but for his compassion, his appeals to unity and the respect he earned, but never demanded. His role as Chief Rabbi did not make him a leader, being a leader made him a Chief Rabbi.
Over the last two months at Bialik, we have witnessed the exceptional initiatives of our new Mazkirut (Year 12 student leaders). Their hard work has ensured students’ returning from Covid lockdown have done so in a warm and supportive environment, filled with fun activities and learning. Perhaps this is not so surprising, given that the word Mazkirut, does not mean captain or prefect or leader, but rather secretariat (a word borrowed from the kibbutz movement). The word actually means ‘to serve the needs of the people’, not to lead them.
It is important to heed the lessons of our history. While at times we may wish for a leader demonstrating tremendous power and gall in the face of opposition, we must remember that if it is done so contrary to the rule of law and against the will of the people, it is fraught with king-size danger.
Assistant Principal (Jewish Life)
Members of Bialik College Mazkirut (Leadership) had the opportunity to ask important questions about issues of domestic violence and the Coronavirus to a panel of expert speakers at the Kooyong 200 Breakfast event on Friday 6 March. The event was in support Josh Frydenberg (Federal Member for Kooyong, Treasurer of Australia) and the Kooyong district and was a wonderful opportunity for our students to engage with important topics that are affecting all Australians.
Bialik was one of only the three schools that was invited to attend and our students presented their questions with great forethought and maturity.
Yom Manhigut (Leadership Day) took place on Friday 15 November and was a day full of activities, excitement and fun. The day started with a session on the importance of Public Speaking by our one-and-only Deb Farago. The art of Public Speaking is an important skill to develop and acquire and a skill that will stay with our students for life.
Our Year 4s will all be developing this skill by speaking in public during their Manhigut journey next year.
The main message from Karen Friede was T.E.A.M. Together Everyone Achieves More. She also spoke about the five main leadership skills we value here at Bialik and they are:
Our Year 4 teachers, together with members of the Mazkirut, organized and ran activities that focused on Manhigut skills such as, team building, responsibility, event organisation and knowing your own strengths.
In the afternoon, representatives of our current Manhigut came to present their Portfolios. This was followed by the students selecting their preferred three portfolios that they would like to be responsible for next year.
Our last keynote, which was delivered by Principal Jeremy Stowe-Lindner, focused on different styles of leadership and leadership skills.
However, no event is complete without yummy food. Our Year 4s enjoyed a BBQ lunch and in the afternoon had a chance to schmooze (socialise) with friends, munch on a cookie and drink hot chocolate. Our day ended with a Year 4 Kabbalat Shabbat.
Now the students are waiting in anticipation to find out the portfolio to which they will contribute next year. All will be revealed on Monday 9 December at our final Primary Assembly.
During their Identity and Leadership elective, ‘Mastery of Self’ in Terms 2 and 3, Year 10s explored the effects of mindset on their work, relationships and motivations. Awareness of self and others, resilience to difficult situations as well as effective communication were also covered.
The students were very proud of their accomplishments and this week, they were presented with a certificate of completion by Principal Jeremy Stowe-Lindner during a ceremony in the amphitheatre.
On Tuesday 7 May, the Mazkirut hosted an inspiring Pink Ribbon breakfast, raising just under $3000 for the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s lifesaving medical research. With 1 in 7 Australians affected by breast cancer, so many in our community are affected. Thank you to all who supported the breakfast.