About Us

Welcome from the Head of School

 
וְשִׁנַּנְתָּ֣ם לְבָנֶ֔יךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ֖ בָּ֑ם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֙ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וּֽבְשָׁכְבְּךָ֖ וּבְקוּמֶֽךָ׃ 

"Teach these [words of Torah] to your children, and speak of them when you sit at home, when you walk in the world, when you rest, and when you rise."

—Deuteronomy 6:7

Rabbi Daniel Nevins, Head of School

Education has been the foundation of Jewish life since Sinai. There we heard “a great voice that never ceased,” and it is our task to initiate each generation of Jews into the sacred experience of understanding ancient wisdom, and contributing their own distinct insights. Education is the foundation of all that we aspire for our children—that they grow into adulthood with strong character and deep learning, that they embrace Jewish beliefs and practices, and that they exhibit curiosity, kindness and responsibility for the needs of others. At Golda Och Academy, our students benefit from the best academic opportunities from early childhood to young adulthood. They are at home here: known, cherished, and supported by an outstanding faculty and staff. At GOA, we organically integrate Jewish and general learning, preparing students to become upstanding citizens of America and leaders of the Jewish community.

Jewish education has been central to my own identity since childhood. I attended public schools in Bergen County through eighth grade, but a transformative bar mitzvah experience in Israel led our family to a Jewish awakening. At Camp Ramah, I discovered the joy of Jewish living with my peers; at the Frisch School, I dove deep into traditional Torah study; and at my Conservative synagogue, I learned to apply ancient values to the cultural and political challenges of our times. After graduating high school, I studied for a year at Yeshivat HaMivtar in Jerusalem, where my interest in Talmud study became a passion. At Harvard College, I concentrated in history, writing a thesis about the mandatory period (1920-48) in Palestine, and cultivated an interest in bioethics that has continued to be a research focus in my rabbinate.

Rabbinical school at JTS offered me the best blend of continued study, professional growth, and the opportunity to serve the Jewish community. My five years as a student at JTS, including another year in Jerusalem, were a chance to deepen and broaden my Jewish knowledge, aided by the best in modern scholarship. After earning my MA and ordination, we moved to Michigan, where I served Adat Shalom first as assistant and then as senior rabbi.

As Lynn and I built our own family, I expanded my Jewish education portfolio, reading stories in preschool, teaching at our Schechter middle school, and helping found a new day high school. Working in experiential education, I organized large teen trips to Israel, ran family camp for our synagogue, and taught each summer at Camp Ramah in Canada. Our three children attended Jewish Day School from kindergarten through 12th grade, finishing up at the Heschel School in NYC after we returned in 2007. During these years I joined the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, working to expand access to Jewish life and protect the dignity of all people.

For 14 years I had the honor of working at JTS as the Pearl Resnick Dean of the Rabbinical School, helping also in the administration of our Cantorial School and sharing in the founding of our Center for Pastoral Education. These were active years for my scholarship, allowing me to author many responsa, divrei Torah, essays and book chapters related to Jewish belief and practice. A sampling of my writings can be found here: www.rabbinevins.com.

I am honored and delighted to lead Golda Och Academy, a school with an extraordinary faculty, beautiful campuses, supportive families, and spectacular students. Not even the most gifted teacher or student working in isolation can achieve the goals of Jewish education. That takes a community. We at Golda Och Academy have the mission, resources, and commitment to allow every student to grow into an accomplished adult, a competent, kind, curious and compassionate person. I look forward to greeting you soon at Golda Och Academy.

Head of School Messages

List of 7 items.

  • June 17, 2022 - Summer Playlist for GOA

    Dear GOA Community,
     
    With the end of the academic year, we are grateful for all that has been accomplished. Our students have been the main engine for making this year so meaningful — whether in the classroom or on the playground, on the stage or on the sports court, or on one of our three successful trips to Israel — they continue to be a great source of pride for GOA. Challenges notwithstanding, we end this year with enormous gratitude for our inspiring and dedicated teachers, amazing staff, Parents’ Association, Grandparents Society and the Board of Trustees. 
     
    This summer we will begin welcoming more than 40 new families and over 60 new students to GOA for the 2022-2023 school year. Some of these new families will be part of the largest Pre-K class GOA has had in five years! Along with new families joining GOA, we are adding talented new faculty and staff and I am eager to introduce them to you soon. 
     
    As I complete my first year at GOA, I feel grateful for the students, faculty, staff, parents, board, donors and community partners who worked together to strengthen our school and support our mission. A colleague shared a great idea with me recently — he created a playlist of meaningful songs for his school — I’d like to do the same. My Spotify playlist, Summer Songs for GOA, is a bit different – it represents varied expressions of American, Jewish and Israeli culture — and I have added a little commentary below. Enjoy these songs, and if you get a chance, please share some of your favorites back with me.
     
    Have a healthy and joyous summer.
     
    Warmly,
     
    Rabbi Danny Nevins
    Head of School
     
    A Spotify Playlist by Rabbi Danny Nevins
    June 2022
     
    Tell the Truth, by Jon Batiste
    This song, from Batiste’s Grammy-winning album of the year, “We Are,” is an uptempo memory of his father’s instruction as he goes out into the world. “When you’re doing what you do, just tell the truth.” I incorporated this into my graduation speech this year, and celebrate its message of integrity and self-respect.
     
    Loveology, by Regina Spektor
    This pre-release song (and video) has a hypnotic pace. Spektor came to America from the USSR in 1989–she is a proud Jew, a classically trained pianist and a composer of remarkable range. It expands the concept of humanistic education to encompass book learning as well as the training of our hearts. She sings about “loveology,” and instructs us, “Let’s study, class!”
     
    Song for Peace, by Omer Avital
    Israel has a robust jazz scene, with many musicians and composers of note. My favorite is the bassist Omer Avital, whom I have seen several times in NYC clubs. This song from his “Suite of the East” has a joyous theme that expands into dreamy reverie, with the piano, horns, drums and of course bass taking turns to express, distort and then restore the catchy melody. When I wonder whether we can ever know peace in this war-torn world, Avital’s song gives me hope.
     
    Sunrise Niggun, by Deborah Saks Mintz
    Recently ordained at JTS as a rabbi, Deborah Saks Mintz has been recording Jewish music for many years. This niggun (wordless melody) sets a calm and yet energizing mood for opening the heart to prayer. We played it at a Rosh Hodesh service last fall, and I encourage you to close your eyes and sing along.
     
    Been Here Before, by Christone “Kingfish” Ingram
    My favorite young blues artist, “Kingfish” has a deep voice and a soaring guitar. At the Apollo Theater I recently watched him climb up to a balcony box and raucously jam with his band back on stage. This song is much quieter and more mysterious–it asks how he came to be this way, and what he might have been in a prior life. One line of the song reminds me of a Midrash about the birth of Moses in Talmud Sotah. Kingfish makes me wonder–where have our souls been before, and why were we placed here in this world?
     
    Sibat HaSibot, by Ishai Ribo
    This Hebrew single by Ribo blends language from Jewish liturgy and modern Israeli slang to describe God as “the cause of all causes”. His message is expressed by Rabbi Akiva’s famous statement that “humans are beloved in that they are made in the divine image.” On Spotify you can view the lyrics –a good Hebrew challenge for the summer!
     
    Eyes of the World, by The Grateful Dead
    An old danceable favorite captures the relaxed spirit of summer, with no tasks or deadlines. In that lazy spirit we can find a “song of our own,” and realize that our experience is both unique and connected to all else. While Robert Hunter’s lyrics don’t always make complete sense, the interplay between the guitars of Garcia, Lesh and Weir help me relax and enjoy the warm days of summer. 
  • June 7, 2022 - Return to Mask Optional Protocol

    Dear GOA Community,
     
    In accord with our previously announced plans, we reviewed our Covid infection numbers following the Shavuot break with our medical advisors today. While there are still scattered infections across the school, as you can see on the dashboard, our numbers have fallen significantly. Once again, this tracks communal rates, which are down 21% in Essex county in the past two weeks. As such, we are returning to mask optional policy starting tomorrow, June 8, with the following exceptions: large indoor gatherings such as tefillah and special indoor events with the community will continue to be masked. Ganon (Pre-K) will also continue to mask since we follow day care rules for our youngest students. 
     
    Thanks to our faculty, students and families for helping us flatten the curve and reduce infections in our community. 
     
    Wishing you all good health in the final two weeks of school!
     
    Rabbi Danny Nevins
    Head of School
  • Rabbi Nevins' D'var Torah to the Class of 2022

    D’var Torah
    Class of ‘22, there is no doubt what the highlight of my first year at GOA has been: Getting to know your class. Starting on senior Shabbaton and continuing during Neshama when I spent a week traveling with you in Israel–this has given me a sense of purpose and pleasure in my work. You are an impressive group–smart and talented, resilient and resourceful, compassionate and kind. After a fun week celebrating Shushan Purim and Shabbat in Jerusalem, we traveled to Gush Etzion for the Many Faces program. There we met Jewish settlers, Palestinian activists, peace makers… and trouble makers. And you were right there in the mix, debating weighty matters of Israel’s past, present and future. I was impressed, and proud of you.
     
    We also had some less weighty debates. One time I wandered the bus and found myself dragged into an argument about the relative merits of… Apple Music and Spotify. I tipped my hand, and soon had my first two, and only two, Spotify playlist followers. Hannah Lancman and Scoop may already know that I’ve been listening to a lot of Jon Batiste lately. 
     
    Do you know Jon Batiste–the great pianist, composer and band leader of Stay Human? Perhaps you heard his soundtrack from Pixar’s film “Soul,” or have caught him accompanying Stephen Colbert each night on the Late Show. You may have heard that Jon Batiste won the Grammy for “We Are,” the best album of 2021. He is from New Orleans, where he inherited a rich musical tradition from his family and his high school, before moving to NYC and attending Juilliard. A musical prodigy, he is deeply rooted in the traditions of his home, and yet spectacularly adept at creating new art with universal appeal.
     
    The thing that I love about Jon Batiste, and that I think is especially salient for you, the GOA Class of 2022, is that ability to be deeply rooted in your own particular culture, community and religion, while keeping your heart open to the diverse voices all around you. The world has much to teach you, and you have much to teach in return. First message-stay rooted, stay proud, but also stay open and curious. 
     
    How do you retain that rootedness as you journey forth into the broader world? In his song, “Tell the Truth,” Batiste remembers his Daddy telling him, 
    Before you go off, better know the game. 
    He said, Tell it like it is, tell the truth. Live how you live, I’m talking to you, 
    When you’re doing what you do, just tell the truth. 
    Tell it like it is, love how you live
    When you’re doing what you do, just tell the truth. 
    Just tell the truth. That’s what we–your teachers, family and friends want for all of you, to live with integrity, pride, and joy. Or as Batiste puts it: Tell it like it is, love how you live / When you’re doing what you do, just tell the truth. [.43-1:12]
     
    Truth sounds so simple, doesn’t it? In Hebrew, as you know, truth is אמת. Think about those three letters, Aleph–the first letter of our Hebrew alphabet, Tav, the very last letter, and Mem, right there in the middle, if you count the final forms. The rabbis noticed how spread out the letters of Emet are, in contrast to its opposite, its nemesis Sheker, which means falsehood. Those letters, Shin, Kuf, and Reish, well, they’re all clustered together at the end of the alphabet.
     
    In a late Midrash about the Hebrew letters attributed to Rabbi Akiva, we ask, “Why is it that the letters of Emet are scattered far apart, while the letters of Sheker are clustered together?
     
    אוצר מדרשים (אייזנשטיין) עקיבא, רבי עמוד 428
    ומפני מה אותיות של אמת מפוזרים זו מזו ואותיות של שקר מוקפין זו על גב זו מפני שאמת קשה לעשותו והשקר עומד אחר האוזן, כדתניא דבי רבי ישמעאל בא ליטמא פותחין לו בא ליטהר מסייעין לו. 
     
    Why are the letters of truth scattered wide, while the letters of falsehood are clustered? Because truth is difficult to establish, while falsehood can be spread by simple whispers. It literally lurks behind your ear. You must search far for truth; the easy alternative, lies big and small, is always in reach. Shockingly we have heard obscene falsehoods and conspiracy theories about the massacre this week in Uvalde, TX, mirroring those told ten years ago after Sandy Hook. 
     
    Falsehood is a powerful tool of hatred; truth, we learn from Rabbi Hanina in the Talmud (Yoma 69b), is the seal of the Holy One: אמר רב חנינא, שמע מינה: חותמו של הקדוש ברוך הוא אמת
     
    Truth may be difficult to ascertain, but once established it is very stable. Let’s look again at the letters. Alef–like a warrior pose in yoga ; Mem–like a linebacker crouched and ready for the snap; Tav–like the third position in ballet. These are stable letters, each standing on two feet, and then some. That’s why we say that the Torah is אמת ויציב, true and stable. In contrast, the letters of Sheker, of falsehood, all stand on one leg, and are off balance as well. Why? Again, the Midrash of Rabbi Akiva:
    ומפני מה אותיות של אמת בשתי רגלים ואותיות של שקר ברגל אחת עומדין, שכל העושה אמת הרי קיים לעולם ונוחל העוה"ב ואינו ממעט בעוה"ז שנאמר כי שבע יפול צדיק וקם וגו' (משלי כ"ד), ושקר אינו מתקיים לעולם שנאמר ורשעים יכשלו ברעה (שם /משלי כ"ד/). 
    Because in the end, a person who stands for truth will stand strong forever–in this world and in the world to come. Not so those who build on a foundation of lies. Eventually the ruse is up, the truth will out.
     
    Now, I admit, things do not always seem this way. Our society often rewards big talk, bold lies, whatever claim can garner fame. Don’t be seduced. Don’t reflexively like, share and retweet whatever you read. Ask critical questions, consider motivations, stop to think about the impact of an iffy claim. Search as far and wide as you need to discern the truth.
     
    This week in the haftarah for Behukotai, Jeremiah says that God is חוקר לב ובוחן כליות, able to probe the heart, to search the mind. We are not God, but we can seek to emulate God’s ways, searching our own thoughts and emotions, and those of people around us, looking for truth, taking responsibility, acting with empathy and building a just and righteous world. 

    Finally, remember that there are many crowns in the world. There is the crown of Torah, כתר תורה, then the crown of power, כתר מלכות, and also the crown of fame, כתר כהונה,  but the greatest crown of them all is the crown of a good name, וכתר שם טוב עולה על גביהן. You all have good names–the names your parents bestowed on you, the names you have established for yourselves. Carry those names forward with pride and integrity. We, the teachers, staff, board and families of GOA are very proud of you. And that is why I am so pleased to wear a special hat inscribed with your names–a GOA Keter Shem Tov, a crown to celebrate your accomplishments and to anticipate your bright futures. Mazal tov, seniors–now Tell it like it is, love how you live / When you’re doing what you do, just tell the truth. [.43-1:12]
  • May 23, 2002 - Head of School Message: Lower School Assistant Principal Transition

    Dear GOA Community,
     
    As we reach the end of the school year and celebrate our graduating students, it is important to recognize transitions in our school leadership. For 16 years we have been blessed with the kind presence and consummate skill of Mrs. Karen Spector, Assistant Principal. Her dedication to our students and families, and to our faculty and staff, has been extraordinary in each role that she has played. Mrs. Spector has worked in close partnership with Principal Carrie Siegel on every aspect of the Lower School experience, has given special attention to our early childhood programs, and has been fundamental to the establishment and success of our alternate Judaic Studies track for 3rd and 4th graders. Every morning she literally opens the day with song, leading the Lower School in singing HaTikvah and a medley of American anthems.
     
    Sadly for us, Mrs. Spector and her husband Rabbi Geoffrey Spector are moving to Orlando, where he will assume the pulpit of Congregation Ohev Shalom. She will continue to work in Jewish education in Florida, and will also continue to serve as a consultant for us at GOA, to our great appreciation. Please join me in thanking Mrs. Spector for the countless acts of kindness, attention and wise guidance that she has provided our students, parents and faculty. We wish her and Rabbi Spector success in their new life in Florida and hope that they will remain closely connected to our community.
     
    When we learned of Mrs. Spector’s plans, we commenced a search process to identify a new Assistant Principal for the Lower School. We are delighted to announce that Mrs. Heather Brown has accepted our offer to join the administration of the Lower School as Assistant Principal. Many of you know Mrs. Brown from her years as a GOA parent and her volunteer leadership with our GOA ambassadors and annual campaign. She is also a highly regarded Jewish educator and administrator, serving for the past decade as Education Director at Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair. A graduate of the University of California, Irvine, and the Fingerhut School of Education, she holds a Masters in Jewish Education, and has worked in the field for the past eighteen years. Day school administration is a new chapter for her, and she is preparing for the transition through participation in the Day School Leadership Training Institute at JTS. We look forward to welcoming Mrs. Brown in her new capacity at GOA and to many years of her leadership. 
     
    There will be other notable transitions in our faculty and staff over the summer, and so this is the time for us to express our gratitude to all who work with such skill and diligence to educate and guide our students as they develop into skilled, confident, kind and good young people. It is an honor to work in partnership with such a team!
     
    Warmly,
     
    Rabbi Danny Nevins
    Head of School
  • May 23, 2022 - Reinstituting Mask Mandate

    Dear GOA Community,
     
    As you have noticed on our Covid-19 Dashboard, GOA has experienced a surge in infections in line with rising rates in our region. This surge has disrupted operations in school since significant numbers of students and staff have needed to isolate or quarantine. While it is not realistic to prevent every infection, we are responsible to mitigate the spread. 
     
    As such, we have decided to mandate universal mask wearing indoors for the next two weeks, through Monday, June 6, at which point we will assess our situation and decide whether to return to mask-optional on June 7 or continue the mask mandate until the end of school on June 17. The mask mandate applies to all students, staff, and visitors on both campuses and at all indoor GOA events, whether on campus or off-campus. As always, we ask our families to partner with the school by masking in indoor public spaces so that we can flatten the curve again.
     
    Warmly,
     
    Rabbi Daniel Nevins
    Head of School
  • May 17, 2022 - Sweetness and Sorrow

    Dear GOA Community,
     
    Life often disorients us with a mixture of experiences, simultaneously exalting us with joy and deflating us with sorrow. This is the message of Naomi Shemer’s famous song, Al Kol Eleh–For All of These. And this was my feeling on Saturday night at the High School Shabbaton when we said havdalah with beautiful singing after a magnificent Shabbat. And then a few minutes later we heard of the horrific, racist massacre in Buffalo which left 10 victims dead, and three others badly wounded. 
     
    We have learned that the shooter was guided by a warped worldview known as the Great Replacement Theory, which has motivated acts of violence around this country and as far off as New Zealand. This theory is deeply xenophobic, blaming Jews and other “elites” for trying to replace white people with people of color. It has motivated attacks against Black Americans in Charleston and Buffalo, Latinx Americans in El Paso, and Jews in Charlottesville, Poway and Pittsburgh. While the most virulent forms of this theory are spread on obscure websites and social media channels, it is also amplified by mainstream media voices. I refer you to the ADL’s explanation of this topic. We at GOA are committed to identifying, confronting and refuting such hateful rhetoric, and to teaching our students the importance of defending the dignity and safety of all people. We invite parents to engage their children in age-appropriate discussion, explaining our Jewish belief that all people are created in the divine image, and that no one should be terrorized over their identity. 
     
    One additional step that we can take — actually many steps — is to march this Sunday in the “Together Again” Celebrate Israel Parade in Manhattan. As our seniors return from Israel on Thursday, we feel great pride and gratitude for our homeland. No country is perfect, including Israel, but no country has been attacked and delegitimated as thoroughly as Israel. This is a chance for us to push back at hatred, to celebrate Jewish peoplehood and Israeli statehood. Please register for the parade here. I look forward to joining many of you in Manhattan.
     
    There is much more to celebrate in our community — so many wonderful things are happening, from last week’s 1st Grade Siddur Celebration, 8th Grade DC trip and High School Shabbaton, to next week’s graduation ceremony. This is the sweetness of community life that we celebrate. Simultaneously, the Covid virus refuses to depart, and there has been a steady rise in infections in our region. At the end of last week the NJ CALI score rose from yellow to orange. 
     
    Aside from one spike in infections following the Teva trip, our GOA infections have remained modest (eight total last week; three so far this week), but we are monitoring the situation closely. All high school students were required to mask following their Shabbaton, just as we did following the Middle School trips. Given our region’s increase in transmission we encourage the entire community to upgrade mask practice. We will need to revert to a mask mandate if our numbers rise significantly, so let’s try to prevent that with preemptive practices. 
     
    Naomi Shemer sings, “over the bitter and the sweet, over our young children–please guard them all, our good God.” As adults, we bear the responsibility of facing the vicissitudes of life, of maintaining focus, vigilance and hope, so that our children can thrive in a confusing and often painful world. Fortified by Jewish faith and grit, our school community is strong — and for this I am truly grateful.
     
    Warmly,
     
    Rabbi Danny Nevins
    Head of School
  • April 5, 2022 - Announcing Our Middle School Excellence Awards

    Dear GOA Families,
     
    I am pleased to announce that our Board of Trustees recently authorized the creation of a new GOA Middle School Excellence Award. Open to new and continuing students, this award is meant to highlight the core values of our school’s mission: Love of Learning, Community, Respect, Love for Israel, Commitment to Repairing the World and Inspiring Jewish Life and Learning. Applicants will compose a brief essay describing how they exemplify excellence in one of these values and submit a letter of reference. Winners will receive awards of up to $10,000 per year, renewable through ninth grade. These awards may be combined with need-based financial aid. For more information, please see the program description below.
     
    Golda Och Academy is blessed with an extraordinary faculty, student body, families and facilities. Our GO Connect program helps students who are new to Jewish day school gain the Hebrew language and text skills needed to thrive here. We integrate general and Jewish studies, feature an extraordinary STEM lab, and incorporate project-based learning across our program. Robust offerings of competitive sports, theater, choir, clubs and travel round out our academic program. We are especially proud of our High School trips to Israel in 9th and 12th grades. 
     
    The GOA Board of Trustees has made recruitment and retention at the Middle School level an institutional investment priority. Our intention with this award is to lift up our school’s values, recognize our students who demonstrate our values with excellence and attract new students to join our program. If you know a prospective student who would be a good candidate for this award, please contact our Office of Admissions at admissions@goldaochacademy.org or 973-602-3645.
     
    Wishing you a hag sameah,
     
    Rabbi Daniel Nevins
    Head of School

    GOA Middle School Excellence Award
     
    Golda Och Academy is pleased to announce our Middle School Excellence Award for 6th, 7th and 8th grade students who demonstrate excellence in the values on which our school was founded. Each of these values is described on our website. We ask applicants for this award to choose one of these values and explain its sources and significance in their life together with a letter of recommendation from a professional (i.e, Rabbi, teacher, coach).
     
    This generous scholarship of up to $10,000 is available for rising 6th, 7th and 8th grade students entering from other schools and is renewable for students in good standing each year through 9th grade. Students who are new to Jewish Day School thrive in our Go Connect program designed to assist students to successfully transition into our rigorous dual-curriculum. New students will apply for the award in conjunction with the standard admissions application (which can be found here or by contacting our Office of Admissions at admissions@goldaochacademy.org, 973-602-3645). 
     
    Current GOA students rising into our 6th, 7th and 8th grades in 2022-23 are eligible to apply for three (3) Middle School Excellence Awards of up to $10,000, renewable for students in good standing each year through 9th grade. GOA continues its generous program of need-based aid, which may be combined with these scholarships.
     
    All students who wish to apply for an Excellence Award must compose an original essay of about 500 words exploring the sources and significance of a GOA mission value that they feel they exemplify. This essay, together with a letter of recommendation from a professional (i.e, Rabbi, teacher, coach), must be submitted along with the admissions application for new students by June 17, 2022, or for current students by May 2, 2022. Please complete this form to begin the award application process. Current GOA students, once we have submitted your interest form you will receive instructions for submitting your Excellence Award application. Recipients will be selected by the Awards Committee.


Rabbi Nevins' Passover Message

Head of School Welcome Message

Health & Wellness Update for August 17, 2021

A Thanksgiving and Hanukkah Message from Rabbi Danny Nevins