Kol Yisrael: Engaging our Human Resources

by Micah Lapidus

Day School sustainability is about more than survival. It’s about maintaining a diverse, vibrant, dynamic, healthy, growing school community. The best way to achieve day school sustainability is by ensuring that we’re fully engaging our human resources. What does it look like to fully engage our human resources? Here’s a case study:

My school, The Alfred and Adele Davis Academy, Atlanta’s Reform Jewish Day School, is a school that loves Jewish music. Jewish singing permeates our school, most noticeably at holiday celebrations and at our weekly Kabbalat Shabbat gatherings. When I came to Davis five years ago I began writing and composing Jewish music – it seemed like a natural thing to do given my musical background and the role of music at Davis. Our head of school and I decided it would be awesome if we could utilize my songwriting knack to shine a light on Davis’ love for Jewish music. The result is The Davis Academy’s first album of original Jewish rock: Be a Blessing.

Just as The Davis Academy decided to engage my musicianship, I quickly learned that the success of the music project was contingent on my engaging others within the Davis community. I engaged our middle school principal, Jamie Kudlats, who happens to be a professional keyboard player with a singing voice like Jackson Browne. (Imagine Paul Simon’s nephew at the mic.) I engaged our fine arts director, Kendrick Phillips, who sounds uncannily like Stevie Nicks and brings tremendous energy and enthusiasm to everything she does. I also engaged our middle school music teacher, Bob Michek, who drummed with a band in the 90’s that opened for Winger among others on the New York club scene. Be a Blessing engaged many students, first as vocalists and later as visual artists. We even engaged our front desk receptionist, Janice Durden, who is the president of her church choir and can belt out a gospel tune like no other.

Be a Blessing features 13 original songs and a 16 page color booklet. Inside the booklet are 26 pieces of original student artwork that exist independently as 2×2 canvases that were created for the album. The student artists engaged with the songs on the album as inspiration for their art work which in turn became the packaging for the album. The graphic design of the album is stunning because we engaged our visual arts teacher, Rebecca Ganz.

One of the songs on the album is called, “Kol Yisrael.” It is based on the teaching, Kol Yisrael areivin zeh l’zeh (“All Israel is responsible for one another.”) For this song we engaged our entire student body and many of our parents and grandparents to create a choir of voices more than 1,000 strong. You can see us all singing on the fabulous music video for this song:

Deep engagement builds community. It empowers people. It lets people know that they are valued and their school needs their talents, creativity, passion, and expertise. Engaging members of The Davis Academy for Be a Blessing demonstrates Davis’ commitment to remaining a diverse, vibrant, dynamic, healthy, growing school community.

In this paradigm, every Jewish Day School and every Jewish institution, is inherently sustainable. Every Jewish day school has their own version of: musical rabbi, Jamie, Kendrick, Bob, Janice, and Rebecca. Every Jewish Day School has multiple areas of passion and expertise. Every Jewish Day School has talented and energetic students. The question is: Are we fully engaging who we already have?

Rabbi Micah Lapidus is the Director of Jewish and Hebrew Studies at The Alfred & Adele Davis Academy in Atlanta, GA. He is also currently serving as the president of PARDES: Day Schools of Reform Judaism. Be a Blessing will be available for free downloads on CD Baby soon.

cross-posted with PEJE blog