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Welcome from the Head of School

Head of School Welcome Message

 
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 2 items.

  • July 1, 2021 — From the Head of School: Honored and Excited

    Dear GOA Community,
     
    On my first official day as Head of School, I want to share how honored and excited I feel to join this remarkable community. The dedication shown by faculty, staff and parents to the students and mission of Golda Och Academy are extremely impressive. Each conversation gives me deeper insight into the ideals and accomplishments of the school, and I am thrilled to join such a remarkable team. I have enjoyed my first encounters with students and look forward to getting to know each of them in the months and years ahead.
     
    Over the summer, the GOA team will be enhanced by several outstanding new faculty members and professionals. I am especially excited to welcome Dr. Eytan Apter as Upper School Principal and Sari Allen as Director of Admissions and Enrollment Management. They have already begun to work with the established leadership team, and I feel blessed to start my position with such extraordinary professionals.
     
    For my inaugural message, I wish to focus on Torah, the ancient conversation that links our people with God. There will be much more in the way of “tachlis” — logistics — later in the summer, but let’s begin with a curious implication of our portion:
     
    “And there shall be a sin offering for the Lord” (Numbers 28:15).  
     
    Did God commit a sin? What? When? We know all about the sin of Adam and Eve, but God is perfect, right? Indeed, the Torah does describe God in Deuteronomy 32:4 as “The Rock, the Perfect One...whose ways are just..who is never false, but true and upright.” Yet this week in a passage explaining the New Moon sacrifices, the Torah says to bring “a sin offering for the Lord.” Did God sin?
     
    Our rabbis offer two explanations, one rational and the other more imaginative. The rational answer is that the experience of sin is essentially an internal, psychological state and so it is “for the Lord,” in the sense that God alone understands our inner motives. The second explanation, said first by the Talmudic sage Reish Lakish, is that God asks the people of Israel to offer this sacrifice each new moon “as atonement for My making the moon smaller” (B. Sh’vuot 9a).
     
    In turn, this explanation alludes to yet another Jewish legend based on Genesis 1:16, that God initially created the sun and moon as equals, but then diminished the moon, creating a celestial hierarchy. Each month as the moon darkens and disappears, this “sin” is repeated. And so each month, God asks the people of Israel to atone for God’s own affront.
     
    This is a complex story with many layers. One take away is that God teaches us by example to take responsibility even for unintended errors, to admit our mistakes and do what we can to rectify them. A second moral to this story is that while hierarchy is sometimes necessary, it must be balanced by an egalitarian impulse. The sun is greater than the moon, but the moon plays an essential role. God may be greater than the entire universe, and yet God asks humanity to address the imperfections of creation. Each player in the cosmos has a dignified and important function.
     
    So too, in educational settings, our goal is not to be perfect, but to seek opportunities for intellectual, spiritual and moral growth. To achieve this goal, we must respect and dignify each learner, from the youngest to the oldest, and to view their role as essential. If we make an error, then we should acknowledge it and seek to do better. If we notice that a member of our community feels left out or belittled, it is our role — all of us — to lift them up with warmth and appreciation. This is the character of a humble, kind, and holy community, and this is the GOA way. 
     
    This model of humility and self-improvement is also important on the national level. As the United States prepares to celebrate our independence this Sunday, we recall the idealism of our American ancestors who sought, in the preamble to the Constitution, to form “a more perfect union.” Or as the poet Katharine Lee Bates wrote in her famous poem America the Beautiful, “America! America! God mend thine every flaw. Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law!” No country is perfect, but one which establishes just laws and takes effective action to address its flaws is truly blessed. 
     
    I wish you and your loved ones Shabbat Shalom and a happy Fourth of July.
     
    Head of School
  • July 9, 2021: Head of School Message: Health and Safety Protocols

    Dear GOA Community,
     
    My first priority as I begin work this summer is to ensure a continued safe learning and working environment for all our students, faculty and staff. On a phone call last week, Senior Public Health Nurse at the West Orange Department of Health, Susan Iovino, said to Nurse Roberta that GOA is a role model for COVID-19 procedures and systems. I commend our nurses and truly the entire GOA community of staff, students and families that worked together to keep school safe and fully operational throughout the pandemic. 
     
    We have reconvened the GOA Health Committee, and in consultation with medical professionals and peer institutions, have come to the following initial decisions for next year:
     
    • Prior to the start of the fall semester, all eligible faculty and staff members must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 
    • As we prepare to resume welcoming adult visitors to the school, we will require that they be fully vaccinated and masked when within the building.
    • The CDC and NJ Department of Health are preparing updated masking guidelines to be shared prior to the school year. Our working assumption is that both GOA campuses will have a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated students in the fall, and therefore masks are likely to be part of our safety protocol for indoor classes and programs. 
    • The GOA Health Committee next meets in mid-July, by which point we will have additional information and make further decisions about the vaccination of eligible students. According to the CDC: “Everyone 12 years and older should get a COVID-19 vaccination to help protect against COVID-19.” We endorse this recommendation and will communicate further GOA decisions related to vaccination policy by late July.
     
    I wish you and your family a healthy and enjoyable summer, and I look forward to meeting you in person this fall.
     
    Warmly,
     
    Head of School