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Teaching This Election, CDS-Style
Monday, October 10, 2016


By Head of School Avi Baran Munro, Ed.M.


Educators on all sides of the proverbial aisle are united in their concern about how to teach about this election. While colorful election language and vitriol have certainly been around since the founding of our nation, one had to seek it out to hear it. In recent decades, the close lens of the television camera seemed to have demanded a more tempered demeanor.


Now the 24/7 nonstop churn of cable news and digital and social media and the unprecedented nature of the trajectory to 2016 has let loose the demons.


So, what is a teacher to do? Sure, we all teach elections and have been doing so for a long time. What does “teaching the election” usually look like? It usually features some version of:


  • Researching the candidates and the party platforms

  • Connecting current policy/political issues to historical events we’re teaching

  • Holding a mock debate

  • Holding a school-wide mock election

  • Viewing the inauguration address and festivities

Early last spring it became clear that impersonating a real candidate could quickly devolve to caricature, and staging a mock debate could inevitably become a mockery. Neither outcome would serve our students or our democracy or our nation well.


And so, the current election has inspired conversations and lesson plans of a different nature. My colleague Chris Brueningsen, Head of School at Kiski Academy contributed Relearning Civility in a Nasty Campaign Year to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette just as school was getting underway.


Many of us who are school leaders responded to his op-ed, feeling that he spoke for all of us who, as educators, have been grappling with this challenge since last year’s primary season unfolded. National organizations are putting out curriculum guides and asking people to take pledges of civility in political discourse (for example,


And here, at CDS, Jewish teachings and our own school-wide experience with mindfulness and our high expectations of mensch-y behavior are converging to give us our own distinctive approach to the topic. Election 2016, CDS-style!


I happened upon a 4th/5th grade morning tefillah service a few weeks ago. The portion was (Ki Teitzei). Our students were discussing laws imploring the Israelites to give thie “strangers” their wages on time, execute justice fairly, and make sure to give them tzedakah. The discussion was also grounded in material from an earlier Torah portion, based on a d'var from Rabbi Sacks on the Torah and Rabbinic sources mandating loving the stranger, caring for the widow, the orphan, the most vulnerable among us.


It was not a great leap for our 4th and 5th graders to map these ancient Jewish teachings onto the social justice questions of our day. And from there, their nimble minds leap to the tone of the discourse about the stranger in our midst, and then about the language being used to talk about people who may be “other.” And then, to the language used to talk about this campaign.


Our students have been asked to be “mindful” about how they interact with others, how they express themselves when they are angry, how to respectfully disagree. They learn this when they learn about being upstanders. They learn this when they learn how to identify and stop a bully. And they learn it when they study our ancient texts.


As Rabbi Sacks asserts in his recent d'var Torah: “This emphasis on verbal abuse is typical of the sages in their sensitivity to language as the creator or destroyer of social bonds. As Rabbi Eleazar notes, harsh or derogatory speech touches on self-image and self-respect in a way that other wrongs do not. What is more, as Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani makes clear, financial wrongdoing can be rectified in a way that wounding speech cannot. Even after apology, the pain (and the damage to reputation) remains.”


So, with all that ancient wisdom swirling around a school population that certainly represents a diversity of opinion on the issues of the day, how will our CDS leaders, our 8th graders, create a meaningful and respectful election experience when the actual adults involved are having difficulty doing so?


Our CDS 8th graders will be running their own mock campaign that will include giving stump speeches, making posters, and voter outreach. The 2016 difference in this CDS campaign is that the students will be presenting the election without identifying as either of the major candidates OR as either major party. The students will still be working off of the Democratic and Republican platforms, but will to do so in a way that focuses on issues and communicating the ideas in a way that appeals to young voters instead of simply repeating the same talking points (some of which could get them a detention!) that they may hear in the media.


Our 8th Grade candidates will visit our 4th-7th Grade social studies classes to give impassioned stump speeches in their own style that will culminate in a debate the day before the election. And on Election Day, CDS voters will decide the fate of our country. And then we’ll find out what the country decided.


As we approach the upcoming Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur holidays, and we do our own calculations and assessments of our own wrongdoings and opportunities to make amends, I ask that we listen to our children and get their impressions of what they see and hear around them. Encourage them to identify and seek inspiration from adults they admire.

Let’s work together to hold our kids accountable to the standards THEY know are standards worth aspiring to, and let them use their civic knowledge, their menschy instincts, their timeless Jewish learning, and their own reflective mindfulness practices, to raise those standards high and hold them close. Even in these contentious times.


Because It Is A Family
Wednesday, June 22, 2016

By Mark Minkus, Head of Intermediate School and Middle School


In the fall of 1971, Bill sat at an old, run-down piano and stared out the window. Living in the Watts section of Los Angeles, what he saw was a decrepit neighborhood riddled with crime and filled with despair. Bill found himself longing for the strong community ties of his hometown: Slab Fork, West Virginia.


He began to gently press the keys and sing out loud as the words flooded his mind,“Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow. But, if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow. Lean on me, when you’re not strong and I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on, for it won’t be long ‘til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.”


In April 1972, Lean on Me raced to the top of the charts and gave Bill Withers the only number one hit of his career.


In the winter of 1502, the Sultan Bajazet II commissioned a 50-year-old architect to design a bridge for the Golden Horn Inlet at Istanbul. The architect sketched out a 346-meter span with three separate arches, as big as the bridge itself, two leaning inwards on either side. The Sultan rejected the design because he felt that it was not feasible to use arches to build a bridge of that length. The architect, Leonardo da Vinci, was convinced that his plan would work, but it was not until 500 years later that his bridge was constructed just outside of Oslo, Norway.


Leonardo often used arches in his construction, and he once famously said, “An arch consists of two weaknesses which, leaning one against another, make a strength.” The arch has been in use for over 2,000 years with good reason. Because the force is both down and outward, arches are incredibly strong. In fact, an arch made of stone does not even need mortar and the arches built by the ancient Romans are sturdy structures to this day.


In the spring of 2016, the words and wisdom of Bill Withers and Leonardo da Vinci are on display every day at CDS when: a Kindergartener sits on an 8th grader’s lap in Kabbalat Shabbat, playdates are planned for the children of a family that just moved here from Israel, two 3rd Grade girls invite another girl to eat lunch with them because she was sitting by herself, a meal train is arranged for a family in need, Holocaust survivors cry at the Yom HaShoah ceremony, teachers cover classes for a colleague that has an injured pet, and when 4th graders play Bingo with the residents at Weinberg Terrace.


Community is defined as, a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals”. At our wonderful school, we all lean on each other when we’re not strong. Our weaknesses become strengths when we lean on each other. Students, staff, parents, and teachers constantly look for ways to identify those in need, find out how they can help and then do what is needed.


That’s why CDS is more than a school, and even more than a community. Because it is a family.


I Turn To The Flag
Friday, May 13, 2016

By Avi Baran Munro, Head of School, Ed.M.


I turn to the flag. But I sing to our kids.


In rapid succession over the past two weeks, we experienced the bitter memories of the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah; our Siddur Ceremony, where our 1st graders receive their very own Siddur for the first time; Yom Hazikaron, where we remember Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror; and today, Yom Ha’atzmaut, where we celebrate the establishment of the State of Israel 68 years ago and our deep and abiding connection to it.


Four times in the last two weeks, during student-led ceremonies at these events, when I turn to face the Israeli flag, here’s what happens: the words of Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah (the Hope), leave my lips and my heart turns to your kids. Our kids.


They are the hope.


Over the past two weeks, the true impact of our CDS experience was on full display. Our students own their heritage, their identity, their future Jewish selves, in a way that is energetic, open-hearted, palpable to the most casual observer, and too big to be contained in a classroom, school, or community.


Our students are immersed in and engaged with the richest gifts of our heritage. And they are empowered to carry them forward into whatever life awaits them.


This morning, the brilliant sun shone down upon this scenario: Our Gary and Nancy Tuckfelt Keeping Tabs Sculpture is shimmering in the background, more than 300 of us are dancing joyfully with each other and with the Israeli dance troupe visiting us from our sister city of Karmiel, our visiting Israeli veterans are watching the scene unfold, telling us that they never in their entire lives imagined that this is what Jewish children were doing in America on Yom Ha’aztmaut. It all seemed perfectly clear and perfectly simple. We were. We are. We will be. Strong. Proud. Jewish.


Hatikvah. When I sing the words of the Hatikvah, I face the flag. In our students, I see the hope


Not Just Another Blockbuster Story
Thursday, April 21, 2016


By Head of School Avi Baran Munro, Ed.M.


The Passover Seder liturgy calls upon each of us to remember that we were once enslaved and oppressed, requiring every generation “to see themselves as though they were liberated from Egypt.”


For me, this means understanding what it means to be enslaved and oppressed, and what it means to be free.


In our lives today, we are both more free than ever before in history, and more enslaved. Our ties to one another are mediated through the bonds of technology which arguably liberate and limit us in ways our ancestors could not have imagined.


How refreshing and transcendent, then, is this annual opportunity, embraced by Jewish families worldwide, to focus on the storyline of our people. The delivery method is face-to-face (instead of through Facebook). The lesson plan was written thousands of years ago (with pedagogic techniques designed to keep even the youngest child engaged). This is a story that is told and retold with Socratic emphasis on questioning, for the purpose of each generation’s ownership and benefit.


To what end? The answer may change depending upon whom one asks and where one is along life’s journey. For me, right now, seeing young CDS families eagerly discover the richness and relevance of our Jewish heritage to their lives today reinforces the timeless nature of the lessons of Egypt and Sinai. We were enslaved. Then we were freed. We were free but not purposeful until we had our identity forged at Sinai. Liberating our better selves through adherence to laws that rose above the whims and wishes of perpetually flawed human leaders.


The Torah says, “You should tell your children on that day, saying: it is what God did for me when I went out of Egypt.” We are commanded as a mitzvah to tell the story of Passover to our children. And from Pre-K through Grade 8, at an age-appropriate level, all the children at Community Day School know in their hearts and minds the story of Passover. It’s not just another blockbuster story to them with heroes and villains, drama and suspense. It’s a narrative rich with meaning that has truly become a part of their identities as individuals and as part of K’lal Yisrael (the people of Israel).


You’ll hear it in their voices when they proudly recite the Four Questions tomorrow night. Or chant the 15 steps in the order of the Seder. Or explain to you why Ha Lachma Anya is written in Aramaic, not Hebrew. Or show you their textual analysis of the concepts of “freedom” and “servitude” in the Haggadah. By fulfilling our mitzvah to tell the story of Passover to our children, they are becoming empowered to carry out that same mitzvah when the next generation of the Jewish community is their responsibility. And that’s why, each passing year, I am filled with joy with every model Seder and Pesach Play. And it’s one more way I know we are getting things right here at CDS.


A Good Man, Indeed
Thursday, April 07, 2016


By Head of School Avi Baran Munro, Ed.M.


In little over a month, our 8th Grade class will embark on their two-week adventure in Israel as the capstone experience of their years of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at CDS (just take a walk down the Middle School hallway, and you can feel the buzz of excitement as they practice their Hebrew skills with each other!).


Compared to their parents’ generation, students nowadays are more likely to have traveled abroad by the age of 16 and have easy access to a world of information at their fingertips through tools like Skype, Twitter, and Google Maps. However, children still need to be guided through the process of discovery to put their learning in context so that a deeper understanding of their own place in the world is developed. That is why fostering global awareness and international collaborations in our classrooms is so beneficial to our students.


It was in this spirit―and in hope for a more peaceful future for Jews and Arabs in Israel and around the world―that we proudly welcomed Mamoun Assady back to CDS this week for a second visit.


Mr. Assady is a 72-year-old Arab citizen of Israel who was born and still lives in a village called Deir Al Assad (meaning “Monastery of the Lion” in Arabic), which is in the Galilee near Pittsburgh’s sister communities in Karmiel/Misgav. He is a retired teacher who has taught English, Hebrew, and Arabic to both Arab and Jewish students. He and his wife, Efaf, have three grown children and grandchildren; they first visited CDS together in 2014 through an introduction to me from the former head of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland. We funded Mr. Assady’s return visit to the United States in partnership with several schools in the Toronto area, including Jewish day schools.


Dedicated to inspiring positive relations between the Arab and Jewish communities in Israel and abroad, Mr. Assady offers a rare, cross-cultural point of view that is informed by his position within both communities. His mission is simple, but lofty: to share his personal story and to build bridges leading to our two cultures growing their understanding of each other. “I am sure that peace will succeed one day,” he says.


While in Pittsburgh, Mr. Assady also is participating in an Israel class at Temple Sinai and speaking at both J-Line and the JCC Adult Current Events class. At Community Day School, Mr. Assady spoke to students across all grade levels about daily life in his village, answering questions about food, work, climate, geography, culture, and education. He showed them photos of his family and landmarks in the village and talked about the demographic makeup of minority communities in Israel. With the gentle patience and kind wisdom of a gifted teacher, Mr. Assady also taught the students some basic greetings in Arabic. “If you can greet someone in their own language, it is like having a key to enter another heart,” he says.


With his characteristic warmth, optimism, and honesty, Mr. Assady answered more sophisticated questions about Islam and Arab culture from our Intermediate School and Middle School students. Here is a sampling of the questions our 4th and 5th graders asked our guest:


  • Is there a Shabbat for Muslims like there is for Jews?

  • Do Arabs in Israel have iPhones (and access to other technologies)?

  • Is it difficult being a minority in Israel?

  • Do you have any special talents or passions?

  • Do you have Jewish friends in Israel?

  • Are things sometimes hard when there is conflict in Israel?

  • Are there special foods you love that are a part of a Muslim holiday?

  • Why do you want to visit Jewish schools?

To say Mr. Assady was impressed with the intelligence, empathy, and curiosity of our students is an understatement. And the feeling was mutual. It was clear that our students understood that this was partly about the power of human interaction, the power of meeting someone who is different.


Mr. Assady promised our students that when he returns to Israel he will tell his wife that he met some fantastic students who ask insightful questions. Then he asked the students what they will tell their parents about his visit. One 3rd grader replied (in Hebrew), “I will tell my mom that I learned to speak Arabic from a good man.”


A good man, indeed.


Make Me A Dwelling Place
Friday, February 12, 2016

By Head of School Avi Baran Munro, Ed.M


Note: This blog post is the address delivered by Avi Munro during the 2nd Grade Kabbalat Shabbat Ceremony on February 12, 2016.


How many of you have visited our Pre-K classroom? Did you know that in our Pre-K classroom there is a Wonder Wall?


The Wonder Wall holds dozens of questions asked by our Pre-K students. Our Pre-K curriculum emerges out of these questions. So here are just a few that are currently posted on our Wonder Wall:


Lilly asks: Why does a unicorn have a horn?

Uri asks: How do we build a sidewalk?

Levi asks: What's inside our bones?

Judah asks: Where does God live?


The one I want to talk about today is Judah’s question. Where does God live?


This week’s Torah Portion, the one you have been studying, Parshat Truma, seems like it might have the answer.


Truma begins with God telling Moshe to collect precious metals and jewels as contributions from the Jewish people in order to build a holy dwelling place.

See, we’re starting right off with fundraising. It is BIBLICAL!


Anyway, this holy dwelling place, it has to be made exactly as God tells Moshe to do it. IKEA quality how-to instructions are given. More verses are actually dedicated to the instructions for building the mishkan than are dedicated to the transmission of the Ten Commandments.


In the Hebrew, God says: V’asu li mikdash, v’shachanti b’tocham

That means:


Make me a dwelling place and I will dwell within them.

Why does it say “Make me a dwelling place and I will dwell within them?”


Why does God need a dwelling place? And what does God mean by “them” And why does God take such a long time to explain how it should be built?


Here’s what I think.

I think that God knows that God does not need a dwelling place. I also think that God knows that it would be hard for the Jewish people to keep the BIG TEN and all the other laws that go with them.


Even though you would think being at Mount Sinai and seeing the thunder and lighting and seeing Moshe going up to meet God would make an enduring impression that would last a really long time, God knew that the Jewish people would need some pretty powerful reminders of the important laws that make us, well, the Jewish people.


Commentators both ancient and modern taught us that the purpose of the mishkan, the dwelling place, is to be understood not in the context of what God's needs, a place to live, as it were, but in the context of what the Jewish people need, a way to be reminded about God and God’s teachings.


So the Mishkan, the dwelling place, was to be built, carefully and lovingly and with much treasure and detail, and carried with them as they traveled through the desert to the Land of Israel. Something to look at and see and admire. Something to remind them of the presence of God and God’s teachings.


So how did that work out?


Let’s fast forward about 3,300 years to today. You might think we don’t know where the mishkan is, that golden bejeweled and bedazzled mishkan, dwelling place, that Bezalel the artist built under Moshe’s instruction at God’s command over 3,300 years ago.


But I disagree. I know where it is. I see it right here, right now, in this room. In these children. In your families, and at this school. To me this school is a mishkan, a place where children and families and educators are reminded of the presence of God and God’s teachings, and of the many gifts we bestow upon our children when we raise them as Jews.


These precious second graders today are joining in song, prayer, study, language, and values, with the world wide family of the Jewish people. Yes, Jews live all over the world now. And, yes, we still remember God’s presence and God’s teachings. And, yes, we are still together as a people. And, yes, we have stayed connected to those days at Sinai as if they happened yesterday, while simultaneously managing to thrive as a people, arguably longer than any other culture or civilization on the face of the earth, and not only have we thrived, but we have managed to preserve our ancient teachings while leading the world in science, engineering, medicine, technology, environmental sustainability, and most importantly, in standing for the highest standards of moral and ethical behavior. In being a MENSCH.

And this Kabbalat Shabbat today, to me this is the mishkan, the dwelling place for God that you, each of you, will carry with you in your heart for the rest of your lives.


Kitah Bet, you really OWN this. You OWN Shabbat. Do you know what that means?  It means that wherever you go, whatever you do, however you choose to express your Jewish self, you own Shabbat. Shabbat is the inheritance that has been passed down for 3,000 years, the most secret (maybe too secret!) weapon of the Jewish people.


What is so cool about Shabbat? This week’s portion is about the building of a dwelling place for God, a sanctuary. Shabbat gives us a virtual sanctuary, a sanctuary in time.


Lots of people, Jewish and non-Jewish people, are waking up today to the magic of Shabbat. Unplugging. Focusing on family and friends. Shabbat, a day of rest, is the Jewish firewall against the truly mundane, profane, and perverse cultural influences that threaten so much of what we know to be the foundations of a healthy society.


Shabbat is good for the economy (you save money!).

It is good for the environment (you don’t pollute).

It is good for the soul (who knew that mindfulness was Biblical?).


The secular Jewish literary giant Ahad Ha'am said that "more than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews."

Kitah Bet, you now have the gift of Shabbat that will live in the mishkan of your heart and keep you as long as you keep it. Yasher Koach, and Shabbat Shalom!

Raising Menschlichkeit
Thursday, February 11, 2016


By Head of School Avi Baran Munro, Ed.M.


This past weekend, I opened my Pittsburgh Post-Gazette only to be delightfully surprised by an editorial written by CDS alum Rebecca Levine, the daughter of Clifford and Rosanne Levine, who will receive the Community Leadership Award at next Saturday’s Mad Mensch 2016 CDS Winter Gala.


In her powerful op-ed called “Down on the bayou: There’s not much of Squirrel Hill in the Louisiana Delta,” Becca recounts her experience as a teacher with the Teach for America program in Tallulah, Louisiana, as a recent grad of Johns Hopkins University. She talks about how time seems to have slowed down compared to her life in Pittsburgh and college, where everyone is in perpetual motion in a fast-paced world where “forward is the only way to go.” She talks about the challenges of relating to her students as a young Jewish woman teaching in a high school that is 96% black in a historically segregated community where her own neighborhood is literally called the “White Folks Section.” And she talks about waking up each day looking forward to tomorrow, to beginning “another week of teaching her 130 students, who are now at the center of my life.”


Over the past few weeks, I’ve also had the privilege hearing from Becca’s three siblings (my favorite e-mails, phone calls, and visits are always from our alumni!). Her sister Meredith studied biobehavioral health at Penn State and is teaching math and science in the Bronx. Her brother Ben graduated from The Wharton School at Penn and recently left his position at the U.S. Treasury to serve as Interim Director of an organization called MetroLab Network, which is a recently-launched network of 20+ city-university partnerships focused on smart cities technology and policy solutions. Her brother Eric graduated from Yale in 2013 and studied economic and global affairs, with a focus on developing countries and Portuguese. He is currently on a six-month leave from an investment firm and living in Rio de Janeiro working for an Afro-focused hair salon chain.  


I share this information with you not only because their degrees and careers and titles are incredibly impressive. Certainly I’m proud to know that CDS had a good deal to do with their ongoing professional successes (because they’ve told me that!). But what I really want you to know is that each of the Levine children―just like their parents―is a true mensch. Eric Levine wrote to me the following:


“Community Day School’s most meaningful impact on my life was in instilling the Jewish value of a strong commitment to social justice. It led Meredith and Becca to work with some of the country's most disadvantaged students, despite the enormous challenges. It led Ben to have an obsession in striving for the public good, whether in smart infrastructure development, constructing fair rules for a sports game, or choosing dishes at a Chinese restaurant for the family. And it has led to my strong interest in developing countries and the challenge of lifting millions out of poverty in a sustainable manner.”


Yes, we teach algebra, Spanish, and writing in our classrooms at CDS. And Hebrew and Jewish Studies. And robotics and computer programming. And history and social studies. And music and art. And so, so much more. And we all take great pride in our children’s intellectual and cultural accomplishments. But what I see as our finest achievement as a school community is that our graduates become people of the highest honor and integrity―menschlichkeit―who live Jewishly on a daily basis through their kindness and ethical behavior.


That’s what we will celebrate at the Mad Mensch Winter Gala next Saturday, when we gather to honor the Levines and our Volunteer of the Year Ken Levin and all of the alumni, teachers, staff, students, and parents who make up our amazing CDS family. Mad Mensch is more than just a clever theme for what promises to be a fabulous gala event. It’s truly a reflection of who we are and everything we strive to be as a school community.


So break out your snazziest vintage apparel and get ready to party like it’s the 1960s―because every hardworking mensch deserves a fun night out on the town!


Looking For The Helpers
Sunday, November 15, 2015

By Head of School Avi Baran Munro, Ed.M.


As a community, we are once again reeling with news of yet another escalating series of horrific terror attacks on innocent civilians, in the streets in Israel, in Beirut, in the skies over Egypt, and last Friday’s synchronized attacks in Paris.


As Jews and as citizens of the world, we feel the suffering of those victims of terror as if they are our brothers and sisters.

As a school, we will address the news of world events as we have in the past, with age-appropriate prayers in our various minyanim, and by responding to questions and concerns raised by our students in Grades 4-8 in pertinent classes.


With younger children, in addition to responding appropriately at school when asked, we leave it to you, the parents, to address questions if and when they arise. As always, we are directing you to resources that may help you, as parents and educators, to respond to children’s concerns, questions, and anxieties.


I always find comfort in this quote from Fred Rogers that we have shared before and that we share with our students when violence and tragedy demand their attention.


“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” - Fred Rogers


Other resources you might find helpful are below:


National Association of Schools Psychologists: Helping Children Cope in Unsettling Times; Tips for Parents and Children


PBS - Talking with Kids about News - Strategies for Talking and Listening


Jewish Education Center of Cleveland - provides several resources for talking with kids about violence, natural disasters, death, burial and mourning


We continue to pray for an elusive peace throughout the world. We continue to educate our children so that they they will have the tools, the passion, the wisdom, and the courage to build a better future.


How to Talk to Your Children About Israel
Thursday, October 15, 2015

By Head of School Avi Baran Munro, Ed.M.


As the deeply troubling unrest in Israel continues to escalate, my heart joins so many in our community and around the world in aching for the victims of senseless attacks and the unimaginable losses suffered by their families.


Amid these rising tensions, we yearn for the elusive solution that will bring this violence to an end and we join in the prayers for quiet to once again and forever fall upon Jerusalem and all of Israel and the world.


One of the difficulties of hearing all of this news, especially when it is close to home for so many of us that have friends, relatives, and people we feel a deep connection with (whether or not we know them) in Israel, is the fact that we sit here in Pittsburgh, thousands of miles and an ocean away from these events and wonder, what can we do?


Supporting the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is one way to show our support for and solidarity with Israel. Here is another useful resource with ideas to help children of all ages and community members step forward in Israel’s time of need.


Another challenge faced by parents and educators is how these events get communicated to our children. In times of community or worldwide crisis, it is easy to assume that young children don’t know what is happening. But children are keenly aware of events, whether through emotions felt by their parents or teachers, news coverage, or talk on the street.


Children need to be reassured that adults in their lives―as well as people in our government and other grown-ups they don’t even know―will always do their best to keep them safe and healthy.


As parents and educators, we have the responsibility to give full attention to a child’s concerns, anger, frustration, and sadness. Older students with an intellectual understanding of political or moral situations may have deeper fears that should be discussed honestly and with great sensitivity.


We also do our children good by turning off the TV or our Facebook feed or YouTube videos; our children need us to spend comforting time with them away from frightening images on the screen.


Of course Fred Rogers said it most perfectly when he recalled his mother’s words: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”


Indeed, in these difficult times, I always remind myself to remember the heroes. To remember that each of us can use our own compassion to stand up to hatred, as we teach starting in Pre-K here at CDS through our Facing History & Ourselves curriculum.


We can prevent future acts of hatred and violence by being upstanders when we see acts of cruelty and by working hard every day to be the best person in our family, school, and community. In this way, we honor the memories of those whose lives have been cut short due to tragedy and those who stood up to hatred throughout history.


Two Extraordinary Women, Remembered
Thursday, September 17, 2015

By Head of School Avi Baran Munro, Ed.M.


As we approach the coming days of reflection and reckoning, I feel compelled to pay tribute to two individuals who played a significant role at CDS and left a legacy that we feel deeply to this day.


Yesterday, Evelyn Fisher Solomonov (z’l) was buried in Israel. Evelyn taught Middle School Language Arts here at CDS when my own children were too young to have her as a teacher, but she was legendary among other CDS alumni for her high expectations and grammar bean bag tosses (kids, take note: if you misspoke and said something like “me and my friends” you’d have a friendly bean bag tossed at you…).


Evelyn’s contribution to CDS was to believe that students were capable of truly hard and challenging work, a tradition we have honored here at CDS. Generations of Solomonov alumni will attest to grammar bags and to the rigor and humor with which she approached her beloved subject matter and students (if I am remembering incorrectly and an alum wishes to elaborate on the bags or on anything else related to Mrs. Solomonov, I invite you to please do so).


Evelyn had two lovely sons, both of whom attended Community Day School. Her eldest son Mike now lives in Philadelphia and is a James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur who visited us here at CDS last spring to give an inspiring talk to our Middle School students. Her younger son David (z’l) was an IDF Staff Sergeant who was killed by sniper fire on Yom Kippur in 2003. He was killed while patrolling an apple orchard along the Lebanese border, three days before he was to be demobilized.


Mike was with his mother most recently in August while in Israel filming a PBS documentary called “The Search for Israeli Cuisine.” When he visited us at CDS last spring, Mike said that cooking Israeli food brings him closer to Israel and Judaism and helps him to remember and honor David. Evelyn’s declining health brought him back to Israel again, and in a too painful calendar coincidence, Evelyn’s death on Rosh Hashanah is now layered upon David’s death on Yom Kippur, making this time of year one of exquisite loss for Michael and the rest of his family―and for all of us that knew and loved them.


In another loss to our community, Claire Klein (z’l) was buried today in B’nei Israel Cemetery. Claire was a determined and forceful proponent of change and philanthropy. She was active in the Jewish community in general, and we hold a special place in our hearts for her because she was among the founders of our school, a woman who, early on, believed passionately in the need for just this kind of Jewish day school education for Pittsburgh’s Jewish children.


Both Claire and Evelyn believed in and invested their energies in building Community Day School. Their legacy lives in each child who has come through our doors, and in their children, and their children’s children. May their memories be a blessing. Read more from Evelyn's former student and CDS alum Niv Ellis, now a reporter at The Jerusalem Post:

Meshuga L'Davar
Thursday, September 03, 2015

By Head of School Avi Baran Munro, Ed.M.


I can’t help it. I LOVE the first weeks of school. And the middle ones, and the last ones, and the summer, when each year we plan to do it all again and do it better. In Hebrew there is a term for people like me. Meshuga l’davar. It means “crazy about the thing.” Or, passionate about it.


Any parent who speed-dated through our building during Tuesday’s Back to School Night encountered dozens of educators exuding passion and sharing their deep, rich, substantive, and inspired plans for their students as they embark on the new school year. How can one not be “meshuga l’davar” when surrounded by people who are exactly that? Passionate about the thing.


Here at CDS, we have been on a course of investing deeply in quality staff and quality programs that deliver on our promise of being the best educational choice for Pittsburgh’s Jewish families.


That means we hold ourselves accountable as an academically competitive independent school while embracing a dual curriculum that integrates bilingual education and Jewish Studies as co-equal, core priorities, along with a fully developed approach to the spiritual, social, and emotional life of the whole child. That means we meet children where they are and commit to educating the widest diversity of Pittsburgh’s Jewish children.


What does that look like?


= Just yesterday, I learned that one student who transferred in from a public charter school was placed in our most rigorous Hebrew language class in his grade because he came through our doors with a stunning proficiency for learning languages. And we knew that about him after just one week in school. As we should.


= Just a bit later in the day, a walk through the halls found a Middle School teacher and student intently focused on organizing the student's locker for success, and 30 minutes later, they were still at the locker, negotiating strategies that would work for the student, so intent in strategic planning that I passed twice more, unnoticed. As it should be.


= Our students are fully prepared for their next level of education. Each year, our 8th grade classes compare favorably against their peers on ERBs, the standardized tests considered the "gold standard" among private schools and administered to 360,000 students in independent and high-achieveing suburban schools nationwide. Last spring, our graduating 8th graders scored higher than their private school peers by a full 4.5 percentile points in combined math and 3.5 percentile points in combined language arts.


= We’re benchmarking Hebrew language progress with a DIBELS-type Hebrew language assessment being created and piloted for us, as well as piloting “Dvash,” a new program for teaching Hebrew to children with dyslexia and other language-related challenges.


= We’re implementing Lucy Calkin’s Writing Workshop curriculum schoolwide.


= We’ve been recognized as a Facing History and Ourselves Innovative Schools Network Partner School and will be introducing a rich “Facing Choices” curriculum in Pre-K to Grade 8.


= We’ve redesigned our Extended Day program to better meet the needs of our students.


= We’ve established a Middle School Advisory program.


= We’ve revamped IGNITE (our innovative experiential learning program) to respond to the unique needs of students in Middle School.


= We’ve re-organized lunch and recess to allow for more lunch and recess time!


= We’re offering a new class for parents of children ages 2-10 years old called Foundations for Jewish Family Living developed by The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning to enrich the Jewish conversations that naturally emerge around the dinner table when parents and children are able to share their learning.


= We’ve trained interested CDS teachers on each level to coach every grade in mindfulness practices, and we’ve linked mindfulness to the ancient practice of t’fillah (prayer)... only at a Jewish day school like ours does your child get to start the day in a meditative space, with communal chanting, breathing, and singing as a way to connect with their past, reset their priorities, and get set for a day of purposeful and sacred work.


= We are recruiting now for our new 3-year-old class, opening in the Fall of 2016!


And because we have surrounded ourselves with passionate people who are “meshuga l’davar,” in addition to all the innovations listed above, our fundraising efforts last year exceeded our expectations. Combining our successful fundraising efforts (thanks to all who gave!) with another strong year of Educational Improvement Tax Credit dollars directed to our school through the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, we fulfilled our commitment to fund our ongoing pursuit of excellence and to provide tuition assistance to more CDS families.


For all these reasons and more, I am proud to be called “meshuga l’davar” and I am blessed to surround myself with parents, students, educators, staff, and members of the community at-large who are equally passionate about the thing―this thing we call Community Day School.



Getting a Handle on Internet Content for Kids
Thursday, April 23, 2015

By Jordan Hoover, Director of Communications and Technology


I get a lot of questions about ways to monitor and control what kids access and view on the Internet. At school, we use a combination of hardware, software, education, and supervision to control what our students are accessing when they’re on our network. While no solution is perfect, ours does a pretty good job of filtering and monitoring what students do when they are using devices here at school.


Where does that leave students when they aren’t at school?  In years past, the task of monitoring and controlling what children could access on the Internet was a lot easier because most families only had a home computer and one connection to the internet. The advice then was to keep the computer in a public place and make sure that children were supervised when using it. Families also could install software on that specific computer to monitor and filter what kids were accessing. Now, the prevalence of Internet-capable devices has shifted that paradigm. How can parents effectively manage Internet access (without just turning it off completely)?


In addition to the built in parental controls in Windows 7, Windows 8, Mac OS X, and iOS, there are a variety of software packages available to monitor what activity takes place and to prevent access to inappropriate materials. One of the most popular is Net Nanny. Net Nanny is software that you install on every device that you want to monitor and control and can be configured to block many objectionable areas of content. It also can be configured to send reports to let you know what’s been happening, monitor social media content, mask profanity on approved sites, or to limit the amount of time that your children can spend online. I recommend checking out their website for more information and to see if this type of solution would work for you.



If you don’t want to install software on each device, or want to be able to control and monitor any access to your Internet connection, there are also many hardware choices available to help you.  One option that has been highly reviewed is the iboss Home Parental Control Router. Unlike software solutions, this type of product filters content where it enters the home, rather than on the device itself. This means that you can also filter devices that software isn’t available for, like gaming consoles, smart TVs, and other Internet-capable products. In addition, this type of device can limit any device that connects to it, so you know that your children’s friends are not accessing inappropriate materials while in your home.


Both of these products (and many others like them) provide parents with the tools that they need to filter content and manage Internet usage for their children at home. This is by no means a comprehensive list of products, nor do I specifically endorse either of the products listed above.  I recommend researching any product that you are thinking about purchasing (or downloading for free) to be sure that it will do what you need it to do.


It’s also important to keep in mind that any hardware or software solution isn’t foolproof, so having an open dialogue with your children about their Internet usage and safety is an important element of controlling and protecting them while online. We use Common Sense Media here at school for much of our content and curricula for teaching students to use technology responsibly, and the site has many resources for parents and families. These include ratings for various media products (movies, games, etc.) that can help parents decide if something is appropriate for their child. In the “Parent Concerns” section of their site, they give parents information about a number of Internet- and social media-related topics, and allow users to comment and contribute to ratings and topics.


The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also offers some great resources for parents and children through their “Net Smartz” website. Topics on the site include the safe and responsible use of cellphones, social media, e-mail, the Internet, and how to identify and prevent cyber-bullying. The information and resources that they provide may help you to start (or continue) the conversation with your children, and to give everyone involved a better understanding of not only the “how,” but also the “why” of Internet safety.


If you have any questions, or would like more information, please feel free to contact me at or by phone at 412-521-1100, Ext. 2350.

I didn’t know what it felt like to belong somewhere, to belong to a community, until I spent time at CDS. If I had gone to any other school, I don’t think I ever could have gotten as far as I am now. As a person, as a student, as a young woman, and as a Jew. I don’t think any school could’ve been my home like CDS was.

- Bella Markovitz, Class of 2014

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Community Day does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, color, sexual orientation or national or ethnic origin in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, financial aid and loan programs, athletics, activities or other school administered programs. This policy of nondiscrimination does not affect the school’s mission of providing a Jewish religious education to its students and its policy of accepting only Jewish students.