Blog - Jewish Day School

From First Friday Assemblies to Mifgashim

An Opportunity for Sharing your Perspective

By Beth Fine, JDS Judaics Coordinator

As in any dynamic, creative and responsive organization, JDS has debated, tried, scrapped and transformed various parts of our program over the years. We have made a commitment to thinking deeply about the mission and vision of the school in general and the goals of specific programs in particular when we reflect on our students’ experiences and make decisions for the future. We strive to inform ourselves about current research and thinking in the field of education as well as the needs of our students, families and faculty. I would like to share with you our decision making process in regard to assemblies this year, and ask for your thoughtful ideas as we begin planning for next year.

Last spring, as Maria prepared for her own retirement and Rabbi Light’s move to California, she decided to eliminate one administrative position and to instead create a teaching position of Judaics coordinator and instructional coach, which I took on beginning in June of 2013. My position is focused on teaching and supporting teachers and students, and does not include leading Judaic programming. In late June the faculty gathered to think about assemblies, as we no longer had an administrator to create and execute these programs. The faculty saw this as an opportunity to reflect on goals for this important piece of our program and to tweak the program so as to meet those goals, with the execution happening by teacher committee.

The faculty identified 3 main goals for these programs – building and celebrating our community, celebrating Shabbat and holidays and sharing our students’ learning.  And from these goals came the three programs we have enjoyed this year:

  1. Mifgash Kehillah or Community Gathering – These gatherings happen in the GAC, and include community singing and classes presenting their learning.
  2. Mifgash Shabbat or Shabbat Gathering – These gatherings occur at TBT. Fifth grade leads a program of welcoming Shabbat with songs and stories.
  3. Mifgash Chavurot or Sharing Gathering – These gatherings happen in individual classrooms. Students from the chavurah or grouping come to the gathering with a piece of learning to share. The students share their work and appreciations with each other.

At this point of the year, we have one more mifgash chavurot (on May 2nd) and mifgash kehillah (on April 4th) as well as a closing assembly in mid June. As a faculty, we have been reflecting on these new programs and considering what has worked well and what needs more attention. Here are the results of our review:

On Mifgash Kehillah: we have valued the opportunity to come together and to appreciate each others’ presentations. We are thrilled to have been able to celebrate with so many parents. Our middle schoolers had not participated in our past First Friday Assemblies, which this program resembles, and have found the program less compelling than the elementary students.

On Mifgash Shabbat: We have found the mifgash Shabbat to meet a long standing desire of bringing our community together to celebrate and enjoy Shabbat. We are proud of the fifth grade leadership at this program. Middle schoolers have participated less actively, though this improved at our last mifgash, when middle school students sat with younger students. Some of us have noticed that parents do not seem as comfortable participating in this program.

On Mifgash Chavurot: we felt that this has met all of the goals we had defined at the start. Every student has had the opportunity to speak in front of a group and to respond to other students’ work. Students choose work that makes them feel proud and describe their learning process. 100% of students have the chance to shine, as opposed to the small numbers who shine at a Mifgash Kehillah. We have noticed that a relatively small number of parents come to this program, though the parents who do attend have spoken highly of the experience.

We have also heard from some parents that they miss coming together once a month for First Friday Assemblies as in past year, and from others that they miss seeing their child in front of the entire assembly.

So that we may have a better picture of what parents hope for in these celebratory experiences, we would like to hear from you and include your perspectives in our planning for next year.

Mike and I would like to invite you to attend our final Mifgash Chavurot, Sharing Assembly on Friday May 2nd in classrooms around the school.  After the student sharing sessions, please join us in the FAR to reflect on the various assemblies this year following the mifgash at 9:15. We are very interested to hear your thoughts and to answer any questions you may have.



6th Graders Taking Action to Help Oso

JDS Head of School Mike Downs and Assistant Head of School Suzanne Messinger received a visit this week from the 6th grade students.  The children were requesting permission to launch a community service or "taking action" project to raise money to help the Washington community of Oso which was hit by a tragic landslide on the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River last month.  More than two dozen died in the slide and many are still missing today.  Here’s a summary of what some of the students had to say:


We chose this Taking Action project because we thought that it would be extremely nice and helpful to all of those poor people and animals that were the victims of the Oso mudslide. Originally, we wanted to volunteer, but we learned that it wasn’t allowed.  Please support our idea. We believe that this is the best solution because currently the only civilians are allowed to go there are immediate family members of the victims.  Our class is really eager to help…

In order to determine which organization to work with and how we could help…

We have spent lots of time on the researching trying to find the best way to help… We went on the web and found different organizations that would accept help for the Oso mudslide. We considered going to the site to volunteer as helpers but were told this was unadvised... The organizations that we decided [to work with] are the Cascade Valley Hospital and Everett Animal Shelter. So we would be helping people and animals. We also learned that donating to the hospitals would be helpful because they are getting many patients… These organizations only accepted money. That led us to doing a bake sale.


Having a bake-sale is involving the school because their own money is used to help people and animals in need. We will also give an option to for those who participated to sign [a letter] to show the empathy, compassion and thought that went into it.  This is an extremely large leadership opportunity for the 6th grade to help our community. We will take a big role by baking home-made baked goods to help. We also completely dropped our previous Taking Action project to make a difference in for current natural disaster. 


This is a part of our learning. This relates to our unit of inquiry because we were studying about erosion. This is a perfect example of when erosion occurs, and we need to help.  JDS has taught us over the years to take action, and this our way of doing that. This would be helping the injured, the families of the injured, and the animals that got stuck in the mud. People would get a chance to help, and to feel good about themselves. Also, it’s a fun snack!

~The 6th Grade Class



Gala & Auction Thank You!

Our largest community event of the year, our Gala & Auction - Inquiry and Imagination, was inspiring. It raised important funds for our inquiry based program.  Our Interim Head of School Mike Downs said it beautifully during the event. 

"After over 20 years working for excellent independent schools in the Midwest, I was drawn to JDS because of a powerful idea: that the 21st century model of Inquiry-based learning is a perfect match for a Jewish Day School.  My question for you: Have you any idea what you actually have here? How revolutionary and forward-looking this model really is? How, years from now, you will be able to look back, when many schools will have finally embraced this model, and say, I was there when JDS led the way?  Like any great learning system, it is at once deeply complex ...and profoundly simple. Complex in that it has a deep structure and requires huge amounts of time to plan, develop and perfect. And simple because at its core is the engine of human curiosity, with the question as the spring at its center." 

Just as taking action is an essential part of student inquiry learning at JDS, our community also took action and showed incredible support of our school. We raised more than $400K for the school including nearly a quarter of a million dollars in our Fund-a-Need.  Thank you to everyone who helped make this event such a tremendous success including those who may have procured items, volunteered, purchased raffle tickets or attended.  A special thanks to our co-chairs Pamela Love and Ida Wickland, our gracious honorees Marc and Gina Gonchar and of course our Development Team of Risa Coleman, Abby Hoffman and Julie Chivo.  Visit the JDS Flickr photostream for pictures from the evening and the Fund-a-Need video is on our homepage.

5th Graders are Taking Action

Our 5th graders have been working hard on their Taking Action project - Spreading Happiness. Some of the 5th grade students decided to make cards and signs of encouragement for Bike Riders of Obliteride which is the cycling benefit for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center ( for more information). Some of the students created Good-bag Project Kits for children who are patients at Children's Hospital.  Wonderful job to all of our JDS 5th Graders for such wonderful work!

7th & 8th Graders Meet Ela Stein Weissberger

Middle School teacher Nance Adler explains a recent Middle School trip to meet Ela Stein Weissberger:


Recently, the 7th and 8th graders all joined middle school and high schoolers from all of the Jewish Schools in the Greater Seattle area at the JCC. This first gathering of Seattle's Jewish day schools was organized by Northwest Yeshiva High School in honor of a visit to Seattle by Ela Stein Weissberger. It was supported by Music of Remembrance, the Jewish Federation and SAMIS. It was great to see a full room of Jewish young people in the new theater space at the JCC. 

Ela was here for the performances at Seattle Children's Theater for Brundibar - a children's opera, originally written and performed in Czech, about the power of friends to help you overcome bullies. This play - an open parody of Hitler - was performed by Jewish children in a concentration camp 55 times!  

Ela was a young girl of 11 when she played the Cat in all 55 performances of Brundibar in Terezin (Theresienstadt) Concentration Camp in 1942-44. Ela is the last remaining cast member to have been in every performance and spends her time traveling to tell her story and the story of her friends who did not survive. Ela shared about her experience in Terezin, her life in Israel after the end of the war and her memories of being part of the Brundibar family in Terezin. In addition to Ela speaking, a video of a segment from 60 Minutes from 1972 about how the performance was used to fool the Red Cross was also shown. You can find this clip at The Red Cross visited Terezin in 1944 after the Nazis had fixed it up to look like a model village for Jews. Seeing children performing a play that showed triumph over a bully was part of their plan to convince the Red Cross that they were not harming Jews. Ela spoke about the kids being aware of the importance of this particular performance and how much was riding on it for the Jews of Terezin.  

Ela, who is now in her 80's, is a spunky lady with a wonderful way of telling her stories. This room of teenagers was silent for the duration of her talk. She also shared some artifacts - the Yellow Star that she wore, a cousin's identity card from Terezin and a piece of art that she made at Terezin for her mother and still has. It was inspiring to see Ela and to hear her story and to learn about her friends. Her request at the end of the talk was that we never forget her friends who didn't survive. Thanks to her sharing her story, their memories will carry on. 


We're celebrating Purim next week!

Purim officially falls on Saturday night March 15th and Sunday March 16th, and will be celebrated at JDS next Friday, March 14th.  School activities include a costume parade, megillah reading, and the Kita Hey Purim Shpeil.  Students will have the opportunity to fulfill all of the four mitzvot of Purim:
  1. Mishloach Manot - sending gifts
  2. Matanot L'evyonim - giving gifts to those who are in need
  3. Megilat Ester - the reading of the Megillah
  4. Seudat Purim - the festive Purim meal
More on Purim from Judaics Coordinator Beth Fine: 
 It takes  imagination to take a story of state - sponsored Anti-Semitism and near escape from annihilation and turn it into a day of celebration. This is the beauty of Purim, embodied in the Hebrew term ונהפוך הוא  (v'nahafoch hu - topsy turvy or opposite day.) Our tradition takes a moment of fear and powerlessness and turns it into a moment of triumph and joy. We recall the poor decision making of King Ahashverosh, the baseless hatred of Haman, the courage of Mordechai. We remember as Esther transforms from fearful girl to assertive woman, the fate of her people in her hands. Purim is a holiday when we remember our past and define our hopes for the future. The megillah says "the Jewish people had light and happiness, joy and glory." Our tradition took this quote and placed it in the Havdalah  service which ends Shabbat and begins each work week -  "the Jewish people had light and happiness, joy and glory, may we have those as well." We begin each week with an awareness of the past and a focus on the exciting possibilities to come. This connection between the past and the future is at the core of our work here at JDS, as students master our history and traditions while creating their own path into an undefined future. May we all find our personal and communal lives filled with light and happiness, joy and glory.

Seattle Police Give Internet Safety Tips

Stephanie Thomas from the Seattle Police Department recently talked to our Middle School students about Internet safety.  Here are some of the highlights which are good reminders for all of us:

  • When you are on-line, you are NEVER anonymous. Even when you think you are.
  • There is always a record of what you have written. Even after you press delete.
  • Everything on the Internet is traceable.
  • When you write, think about how the reader will receive and "hear" what you have written.
  • Once you post a picture on-line, ANYONE can use it.
  • Purge your friends list. If you have never talked to or wouldn't speak to a particular person offline, then don't speak to them online.
  • Emailing or texting or posting with the intent to embarrass is a crime.
  • It is 10 times harder to repair an online reputation than an offline one.



JDS Faculty Member Named Alfred Lerner Fellow

JDS is pleased to announce that JDS faculty member Nance Adler has been selected by the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center (WSHERC) as one of two 2014 Alfred Lerner Fellows from Seattle.  Nance will study at the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous at their Summer Institute at New York's Columbia University. This will help her complete her training as a master teacher of the Holocaust and will allow her to work with the organization to train other teachers in the future.


Find Out More About Inquiry Learning

A reminder that JDS will be discussing its inquiry-based curriculum with parents at our Inquiry Night on Tuesday evening, February 25th.  We're seeing wonderful examples each week of how inquiry is helping students learn on a deeper level and it encourages them to ask questions and initiate solutions.  Enjoy two excerpts from our teacher blogs below:

5th Grade Deep Thinking:  Our 5th grade students have done a lot of research and deep thinking about bullying and its connection to Wonder, JDS and their  own experiences. We have seen such beautiful reflections from all of the students. Many of you watched our Explorers class present at the Mifgash Shabbat last week and, in class, our Seekers class presented their work. It is inspiring to see students give specific comments and ask thought-provoking questions after watching their peers present. The growth of their feedback is tremendous. Below are just some of the wonderful things I heard.

  • "What was your favorite part about working on this research?"
  • "I loved that you used specific examples from the text. They were very clear!" 
  • "I noticed you said my research, I had found..."
  • "I learned a lot from your presentation. You shared information with us that I didn't find in my own research." 
  • "Why was that quote special to you?"
  • "What part of Wonder (including the Going Further Project) did you enjoy the most? Why?"
  • "I see the statistic that you wrote down. How does it connect to bullying?"
  • "What was the most valuable thing you learned from this whole process?"

Kindergartners Build a Fence: Kindergarten teacher Paula Schwimmer tell us about a great project which was initiated by Kindergarten students. "Robbie Morris, one of our kindergarteners, was worried about the bulbs that they had planted during their science unit on the Fall.  He noticed that some people were stepping in the garden and on the sprouting plants.  He came up with the idea of putting a fence around the garden.  This fit in perfectly with HaMorah Aileen's inquiry unit on structures.  With the help of Robbie's mom Lisa Morris and another kindergarten parent, Nathan Goldberg, the kindergartners made this happen!"


How JDS 3rd Graders Learn about the 5 Senses

Studying the 5 senses used to seem so basic - so one dimensional. You learned about them, were quizzed about them and moved on.  Not so in an inquiry-based classroom where learning about the five senses is engaging and fun... not to mention multi-dimensional.  Enjoy the blog below which 3rd grade teacher Pam Grossman wrote for the parents in her classroom.  Stop and think about how it compares to the way we, as parents, learned when we were 8 and 9 year olds.  Enjoy!

Our study of the Five Senses has been framed by the core inquiry concept of asking questions. We started by looking at the scientific method and saw that learning and discovery come from carefully noticing and wondering.  With hands-on experiments for active engagement, students found out about sight and sound, learning about the structure of our eyes and ears and the important role played by our brains. Entwined with our learning all along the way, we elicited and shared student questions, documented the questions and noticed the answers we uncovered through our experimenting. 

Now that we’ve studied two senses all together as a class, we are handing the students a new and exciting independent opportunity for learning about the other three. Third Graders will select questions they find particularly compelling, do independent research to find out the answers and present findings in an individual project. How does this work for a Third Grader? 

Discovering the Questions: On Friday, students worked with a partner to brainstorm questions about touch, taste and smell. Teams generated a quick list – four minutes on a timer and GO! Then, I distributed a large collection of 5 Sense and Human Body books. Students were challenged to browse quickly through these and see what additional questions were brought to mind. 10 minutes was hardly enough as students were desperate to spend more time poring over these fascinating science texts.

Choosing A Question: Today I presented students with a typed list of their questions matched up with resources which could provide the answers. 

Structuring the Research: Each student was invited to select a question from the list that he or she finds most interesting and begin researching the answer. This means reading carefully and identifying the information in a selected text that the teacher has already screened. We will have three class periods to learn the answers and create presentations to share what we learn. Six different ways of sharing information were suggested and each child can choose the medium that feels most comfortable.

How does a Third Grader learn to plan such a project? Each child goes through the steps of identifying resources, collecting facts and making a plan. Students can use art supplies from the classroom or bring special items from home. Two teachers will circulate around the class offering support as needed: reminding students that the research answers should match the question, helping children use the index and table of contents to track down information and coaching students to write neatly, keep track of page numbers and copy out important words carefully. 

Sharing Our Learning: This week we’ll talk about exciting ways we can share our learning. Students may consider doing small-group sharing as we have done with Author Celebrations. They may want to present to another class or share with siblings, celebrate with snacks or make fancy signs. They may want to share with their families by creating a museum or experience. This is another opportunity for the students to own their learning and lend their voice and creativity to our shared outcomes. We’ll let you know soon what the students decide; I’m sure they will need your help to make their vision a reality.

What makes this Inquiry Learning? Inquiry learning offers the opportunity for choice and differentiation for ability and interest. An excited student might go home and brainstorm with parents about gathering additional supplies or information. A student struggling to comprehend a text has two teachers on hand to help by providing 1:1 support. Art-smart students have an opportunity to shine while those who prefer words can use that strength. Skills like time management, project planning and organization are essential and are explicitly taught, modeled and practiced throughout the process. The hum of the classroom as students work on this sort of project is magical and is the heart of inquiry-based learning: independent students pursuing an interest with structured teacher support, strengthening important skills and reflecting on both the learning and the process.

Please ask your Third Grader about the question he or she has chosen. This is a big step for our learners and asks them to take on new responsibilities. For this project, the measure of student success is not simply the quality of their posters or dioramas, but is instead reflected in their overall investment in learning, their ability to be self-aware and reflective about their process, and in their new-found awareness that each student has the ability to ask interesting questions and pursue the answers.

Interested in knowing more about Inquiry Learning at JDS? There are two events that might catch your interest.  The first is a special evening devoted to educating parents about inquiry, to be held on Tuesday, February 25 at 7:00 pm in the FAR. The second is our school auction on March 23, which has as its theme “Inquiry and Imagination: the Keys to Infinite Potential”.