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Welcome from the Head of School

The Laws of Shabbat with Rabbi Nevins

    • Lifelong Jewish Learning Series: Introduction to the Laws of Shabbat





 
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.

  • September 15, 2022 - Head of School Message: Remote Learning Policy

    Dear GOA Families,
     
    Classes are up and running on both campuses, and I have witnessed the high level of enthusiasm and joy among students and faculty alike. We are thrilled to be back together and have every intention of continuing in-person instruction without interruption. That said, we realize that some students will experience Covid infections that will keep them out of school for several days. In such cases, we will make remote instruction available to the affected students with these conditions:
     
    1. Teachers will need a full day’s notice before they can include the student remotely.
    2. Remote access is limited to students who are isolating in response to Covid.
    3. Remote access may not be offered for all settings given our diverse learning activities.
    4. The maximum number of remote access days for any given student will be four —starting the day after their isolation begins. For example, if a student tests positive on a Sunday and informs the school, then remote access would be offered Tuesday through Friday. 
     
    Hopefully there will be no need for this back-up for your students, or any students, but we want to be prepared just in case. If your student encounters other health challenges that affect their school experience this year, please contact their guidance counselor.
     
    Wishing your families a healthy and happy new year. Shanah tovah!
     
    Rabbi Daniel Nevins
    Head of School
  • September 9, 2022 - Head of School Message: Operations Update

    Dear GOA Families,
     
    As we complete the first week of school, I want to offer gratitude for the remarkable people who work on our two campuses with skill, resilience, and great commitment. From the faculty and administration to the staff, security, and maintenance teams, we are extremely well served. When things go smoothly it is possible to forget how much effort went into that calm experience. But circumstances often conspire to test our team, and then I stand in awe at their capacity to adapt and reorganize operations for the sake of our students.
     
    This week we had two such sets of challenging circumstances:
     
    • Over the course of this week seven staff members at the Lower School tested positive for Covid. We immediately took measures to protect the other staff and our students from infection, but that was only part of the task. Our administration and faculty needed to step up and cover for their missing colleagues so that the first week of school would be wonderful for our students, as indeed it was. We wish refuah sheleimah (full recovery) for our staff, and thanks to all who stepped up and covered for them.
     
    • The second major issue challenging us, and schools across the nation, relates to school transportation. At the last minute in August, two of our major bus providers canceled their contracts, leaving us scrambling to find coverage. We have been in contact with many transportation providers in the state, and were miraculously (and expensively) able to line up replacements for all our routes. But the agencies that handle background checks on drivers did not go into overdrive, and we still have numerous routes in Bergen, Union and Middlesex counties that are not covered. This has caused terrible challenges for many families. We are well aware that other schools are in the same situation, but this awareness does not help. Internally, the challenge is exacerbated by a three-week gap between the service of our beloved outgoing Manager of Operations, Crystal Hopkins, and our much-anticipated new Manager, Catie DeSista who will begin later next week. Other members of our administration, especially CFO Julia Malaga and Registrar Lauren Iannia, have stepped into the breach, working late into the night and early in the morning to address challenges very much beyond our control.
     
    My purpose in this note is not only to express gratitude to our staff, though it is very much deserved. Many of you have already showered praise and thanks on our team, and we appreciate that. But I know that frustrations caused by these logistical challenges are real and cannot always be resolved with a smile. So, if you have an urgent issue related to school transportation, please do not contact our staff, but rather go directly to the transportation companies: 
     
    • SOMA families should contact Lulu at NYNJ Bus Charter, 551-306-9992, or use the WhatsApp group to contact the driver
    • Livingston families contact Lisa Marazzo, 201-704-5981.
    • West Orange families contact dispatcher Gloria, 973-324-1897.
    • RideAlong Now families contact either Manny Ferraro, 551-25-3521, or Chris Torres, 703-720-7314.
     
    Thank you, as always, for your partnership. I wish you and your families a Shabbat shalom,
     
    Rabbi Daniel Nevins
    Head of School
  • August 26, 2022 - Head of School Message: Calendar Change for Professional Development Day

    Dear GOA Community,
     
    In the past year I have witnessed the many ways that our students have flourished, demonstrating resilience and resourcefulness in responding to the challenges of COVID. They are quite remarkable! The smiles and accomplishments of our GOA students are reassuring, yet we know from national studies that the pandemic has had an impact on many young people’s social, emotional and academic development. As such, GOA is increasing resources to support the mental health of our students, adding two new guidance counselors this year with help from a grant by the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey. We are also partnering with the Jewish Family Service to train our faculty in recognizing signs of trauma and providing a supportive school environment. This training is especially important given the extended impact of the Covid years on our students’ young lives.
     
    We are making a small change in the school calendar in order to facilitate this important training as early in the year as possible. Please note that Friday, October 28, will now be a Professional Development day, with no classes. We are “making up” these classroom hours by removing the Professional Development half-day currently scheduled for March 15. Click here for an updated calendar PDF, which is also posted on the Resource pages of the school website.
     
    Thank you as always for your partnership as we work together to support your children, and our students, to have a joyous and successful school year.
     
    Warmly,
     
    Rabbi Daniel Nevins
    Head of School
  • August 12, 2022 - Head of School Message: Welcome to the 2022-23 School Year

    Dear GOA Community,
     
    I hope that your summer has been enjoyable and restorative so far. Our team of administrators, faculty and staff on both campuses are preparing for the new schoolyear with great anticipation. The entire staff looks forward to welcoming our students in just a few weeks.
     
    Here are a few highlights of what to expect in 2022-23/5782-3:
     
    New Faculty and Staff
    This fall we are welcoming 15 extraordinary new teachers at every level from our Ganon (Pre-K), which has doubled in size, to our High School. We have added five new faculty in Music and Art, and are welcoming new teachers in Science, Spanish, Hebrew, Physical Education and Judaic Studies. These new faculty are extremely impressive, with advanced degrees and deep experience in their fields. School will soon be buzzing with fresh scholarship and creativity.
     
    Student Services Expansion
    In addition to classroom faculty, we are delighted to announce three new positions in Student Services. We have hired an outstanding specialist in learning support to coordinate the work of our team on both campuses. And with a grant from the Healthcare Foundation of NJ, we have hired two additional guidance counselors, one for each campus, to focus specifically on mental health and wellness. These three new professionals will join our existing team to deepen and broaden our support of student flourishing across the board. 
     
    Covid Policy
    While the pandemic is not over, we are moving forward on all fronts to normalize the student experience in accordance with guidance from our medical advisors to maintain a layered approach. Both campuses will be “mask-welcome,” with families deciding whether or not their children should wear masks throughout the day. Students on both campuses will be able to eat in the cafeteria or outdoors according to the instructions of their parents (and thanks to our amazing PA, we are offering school lunch for purchase Monday through Friday!). All school and extracurricular activities will be open to students regardless ofCovid vaccination status. We are conducting a study of air quality to ensure that our buildings meet high standards for purification. As always, students and staff who experience Covid symptoms should stay home and test to be sure. Other Covid-related policies are listed on the Health & Safety: Covid Updates resource page (after the login under "Resources") of our website. We will monitor conditions in school and the community and modify policy throughout the year as guided by our medical advisors.
     
    Security
    Over the summer we conducted a security review of both campuses and our cyberspaces. Numerous upgrades were made in equipment, staff training and security protocols, all with the goal of keeping our students and staff safe. While it is not appropriate to reveal the precise nature of our security systems, you deserve to know that we continue to work with our security firm as well as with external experts from the West Orange Police Department and the Jewish Federation’s Community Security Initiative.  
     
    More Information to Follow
    There are many exciting programs planned for our school which will be highlighted soon in notes from our principals. We are also preparing videos and other information about our new team members, so please look for them.
     
    Today is the 15th of Av, Tu B’Av, which is considered one of the happiest days in the Jewish calendar. This is certainly true for me as I look forward to welcoming your wonderful children to Golda Och Academy!
     
    Shabbat shalom,
     
    Rabbi Danny Nevins
    Head of School
  • 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]

Head of School Message: Thoughts on Education Ahead of the 2022-23 School Year

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