Bruchim Habaim! Welcome everyone!

Welcome back to so many of you and to our 19 new Gan Nitzan students and families, and our 12 new transfer students and families. Welcome to our veteran teachers, and a special warm welcome to our 12 new faculty and staff who already feel like they have been with us at JCDS forever.

Rosh Chodesh Elul was this past Friday. Perhaps some of you caught a glimpse of the tiny sliver of moon that reminds us of a new month. This is the month we often refer to as the month of deep reflection and beginning the process of Teshuvah. Repentance. Renewal. It is a time when we think about starting over and maybe even re-creating ourselves.

This past Friday was also the last Shabbat my son spent at home before starting college. Two days ago, we packed the car with clothes, books, hockey sticks, pillows, and blankets and we dropped him off at his new school. How was he feeling? Nervous? Excited? A little sad? A little unsure of what this next chapter might look like? I bet he was feeling a bit of all of that. A new year ALWAYS begins with a mix of emotions which can absolutely exist simultaneously.

The 8th graders here today – you have just arrived at your last first day here at JCDS. The Nitzanim – you have just begun your journey. For every grade in between, you’re each starting this year’s unique journey. Like my son, I bet you are all feeling a little nervous, a little excited, a little sad, a little scared, a little happy! You can feel all of those things at once.

I visited the bookstore at my son’s college and wound up buying several books that caught my eye, “Think Again” by Adam Grant. I was intrigued by his premise that we are hardwired to avoid reconsidering what we thought to be true. It turns out we don’t like to be wrong. We don’t always like to consider new perspectives. We have no problem buying new clothes, or renovating our kitchens when they are no longer in style, but we really don’t like to change our opinions. We favor the “comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt.” His book urges its reader to think again, generate new solutions, learn from the people around you, and be flexible with your thinking. You might be wrong and that’s ok.

A second book that popped out for me was “You Are Here” by Thich Nhat Hahn. This book begins with the statement, “Breathing in. I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.” We the readers are invited to discover through the small act of breathing just how mindfulness can lead to insight, wisdom, and compassion, and can ultimately transform our lives with newfound joy.

Finally, I stumbled upon this fascinating book, “Radical Curiosity” by Seth Goldenberg. He drives home the point that we humans, as hard as it may be, must remain curious. We are much too often “stuck on finding predetermined solutions to problems than being curious questioners of the unknown.” He asks the readers to think about how and when we might have lost our ability to think for ourselves. He begs us to bring back a culture of radical questioning – the bigger the question the more fertile the ground for imagining.

How true it is, that real learning only happens when schools make ample space for doubting, perspective-taking, mindfulness, and, ultimately, curiosity and imagination.

What amazed me in that college bookstore was the fact that college students were grappling with the very issues we do here at JCDS. All of these goals are top of mind for us and your teachers are essential ingredients of the JCDS experience.

As we enter this new school year of 2022-23, the Jewish year of 5783, with Rosh Hashanah, just around the corner, I invite you to think about how the month of Elul can be an invitation to you to think about what renewal might mean for you.

Who will you become this year? What will you re-think? Which moments can give you a sense of peace and joy? What will you do to remain curious? What are you already curious about?

And what incredible imagining will you do this year?

Your teachers are ready to help open up your minds and stretch your thinking. The Torah, juicy novels, and our brand new Makerspace (which we are calling HaSadna—the workshop) all invite you to explore and learn from. Listen and learn from your classmates and teachers, and let your imagination take off!

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