A JK-12 pluralistic school that engages students in an exemplary and inspiring general and Jewish education.


A guest blog sharing the voices, wisdom, and insights of the school community.

Contribute to CESJDS Links! If you are interested in authoring a post, please submit the form.

Early and Ongoing STEM Education for Girls Leads to Amazing Women in STEM Careers
Rogina Bolt

I gravitated toward science and mathematics early in life. I was surrounded by brothers and male cousins. They were always making something, going on adventures, building tree forts, hunting for frogs and snakes, playing on the farm, fishing, building rockets, making messes, etc. I had the option of being alone or learning how to keep up with all the fun. I became quite competitive with all of them. I learned I was as good or better at many of the games we played. It gave me strength for the career I have now. It gave me a sense of being equal to males. I have always felt there are no limits for females, only the ones we imagine for ourselves. I won my first science fair when I was in fourth grade. I kept winning science fairs from then on.

I truly believe it is important to immerse all children, especially girls, into STEM at an early age. They must feel a part of something in order to attach that something to their identities. The whole child must be embraced with this immersion. STEM is fun! It combines all modalities and genres of academia into one class. For me, it is the most important subject each student will take. For girls, it will give them a strong sense of their place in our world. The female mind must be heard throughout the scientific community. We have great instincts and abilities to see around problem solving that benefit this community and the world.

The program at CESJDS has the most amazingly cohesive and talented teachers who use cross-curricular skills to teach STEM through all the subjects offered here. We collaborate on all levels. We embrace the Next Generation Science Standards into our curriculum. We have a strong vision of where we are and where we are going with science. We see the need to be aggressive with our learning of technology. We know there is a need in the world for more creative design in engineering. The mathematical skills we are teaching with hands-on activities give the learner a stronger retention and understanding. Critical thinking skills are at the core of our STEM program. They are embedded into the curriculum in every lesson.

Rogina Bolt, CESJDS science teacher

Rogina Bolt is the science teacher for Junior Kindergarten-2nd Grade students at the CESJDS Lower School.

Reflections on the Women's March on Washington
Julia Gordon

Women's March Hebrew posterAt the Women's March in DC the day after Inauguration, I carried a sign I printed off the internet from a female artist who offered her work to be used by march participants.

The sign said: צדק צדק תרדפי (justice, justice, shall you pursue, with the original תרגף changed to the feminine form of the verb).

While the quote is well known perhaps to the point of cliché, it has a place in my heart largely due to a commentary I once heard as a teenager: that the repetition of the word "Tzedek" reminds us both the ends and the means must be just. Over the years, that message has become a core tenet of how I approach social justice activism.

But more generally, I chose a sign with Hebrew words and a Jewish message because my values and politics are rooted in my religious values, and it felt important to signify that commitment in my public expression.

Not unexpectedly, the sign brought me together with other Jews at the march. A number of passers-by wished me a Shabbat Shalom; many others identified themselves as Jewish as we stood near each other during the speeches or marched down the street together; and a reporter from the Forward delightedly interviewed my family.

Unexpectedly, I learned a few days after the march that Ruth Mergi, the artist who created the sign I carried, was a graduate of CESJDS! Yet while that discovery was unexpected, it wasn't surprising. The students at CESJDS not only learn values of tolerance and justice, but also how to be participatory members of their community.

In fact, quite a large number of CESJDS students attended the march – I saw many of them either in person or on social media photos – and I spoke to a couple of them after I was asked to write this blog post.

One of those students, Kate Sosland (grade 10) told me, "My Jewish values teach me that every single human being deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. I wanted to march to stand with those values and embrace myself in a beautiful community."

Kate, who had marched in Boston during an out-of-town visit with family, further reflected, "Marching that day was one of the most empowering experiences of my life. I was able to let go of my anger and fear about what lies ahead because I felt empowered that so many other people shared the same values as I do."

My daughter, Rochelle Berman (grade 7), sounded some of the same themes as Kate. She wanted to march so that she could be "part of history," and the unexpectedly large turnout in DC as well as the multiplicity of marches across the country and the world moved her greatly.

"As Jews, we're supposed to advocate for justice," Rochelle said. "I liked that while the march was focused on women's rights, people there also marched for welcoming refugees and supporting the black lives matter movement and standing for LGBT rights."

Both Kate and Rochelle view their participation in the Women's March as just the beginning of their activism. Kate has already attended two more rallies, and Rochelle has helped furnish an apartment that will house a refugee family.

In recent weeks, I've found hope in the many people who have offered messages of comfort and caring in the face of anti-Semitism and intolerance, but best of all is knowing our children are prepared to pursue justice vigorously and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Julia Gordon is the CESJDS parent of Rochelle Berman (grade 7).

18 Years With CESJDS
Suzanne and Josh Schonfeld

As we walk, and sometimes run, through life, it is worthwhile to pause and reflect when we arrive at certain points along our journey. As our youngest son, Aaron, just graduated from CESJDS and arrived in Israel earlier this week, we have reached one of those moments. We are indeed quite grateful to have reached this point.

Amazingly, and somewhat symbolically, we began our relationship with CESJDS about eighteen years ago, when, after much discussion, we decided to meet the admissions director and take a tour of the Lower School. We were immediately impressed with the school's warmth, small and intimate classrooms, and the dual curriculum. For us, because we are fortunate to live in a community with strong public schools, the decision was not a reflection on the school system where Suzanne had taught for many years. Instead, it was a decision to provide our children with as strong a Jewish background as we could. After much discussion, we decided to give CESJDS a try.

A few months later, in the fall of 2000, our eldest son, David, started kindergarten. Two years later, our middle son Brian, followed. And, two years after that, Aaron began his journey.

We immediately felt at home at CESJDS and so did our boys. The teachers (too many to name here), not only cared about their students but they also cared about the Jewish values they were attempting to instill in our children. Of course, there were stressful moments along the way--but those were of a type that all students inevitably encounter no matter what school they attend. Overall, however, CESJDS was a place where all of our boys felt comfortable. In fact, at various points we asked each of them if they wanted to continue their studies at CESJDS--all of them always said yes!

Like many families, there are many events along the way where we would have liked to stop the passage of time so we could spend more time in those moments. The Lower School provided many beautiful, heartfelt events such as Haggigat HaSiddur and Haggigat HaTorah and where each of the boys received their first Siddur and Chumash, and charmed their parents and grandparents along the way. The Havdalah Saturday evening program in 4th grade followed. We continue to believe that the three Havdalah programs we attended were among the most beautiful and meaningful evenings we spent with the school. The Lower School experience was capped by the Tefillah Breakfast at the end of 6th grade, an event overflowing with ruach!

All of these events, along with others, created a sense of warmth and community. Our hearts swelled as we watched and we felt intense pride in what our boys were learning, how it connected them to their history and would go with them in the years ahead. The sound of our boys' and their classmates' voices as they sang the same songs that we had learned, and that our parents and grandparents had sung before us, was quite moving. It was especially moving to Josh and his father, a Holocaust survivor.

Our experience with the Upper School began with many Bar and Bat Mitzvahs in 7th grade—where we celebrated with everyone and witnessed the benefits of a pluralistic school. As our boys went through high school, we were not in school as often, but we watched as they experienced other powerful moments and as they formed more nuanced connections to their heritage. The boys also created bonds to the school through team sports—cross country, track, and baseball—and The Lion's Tale. Outside of school, they had even more good times playing baseball, basketball, and soccer with their classmates, on teams coached and managed by CESJDS parents.

Back to school nights and open house visits deepened our ties to the school. As we wandered the hallways, it was always great to meet up with our CESJDS friends and kibbitz in the hallways! During Grandparents' Days, the boys and their grandparents made connections to CESJDS with their visits, too.

Time moved too quickly. As the parents of older children predicted, and for some unknown reason, it seemed to move much more rapidly as the boys progressed through high school.

Now that our youngest is in Israel and will travel to Eastern Europe next week, it is particularly meaningful that our boys will stand and have stood with their classmates on the sacred spot where so many of our family perished and study just a few minutes away from Ra'anana, where their grandmother was born.

Simply stated--although no institution is perfect, CESJDS is a terrific place and we would make the same choice all over again. We knew that the decision to send our sons to a Jewish day school was a significant one. We also knew that a strong Jewish education was a gift. Our boys emerged from CESJDS with the tools they will need to live committed Jewish lives wherever they end up choosing to live. No matter what happens, they have the knowledge and the skills to continue exploring Jewishly should they choose to do so. They also have a strong foundation to function in the broader community.

There are elements to a well-rounded education that may even be more important than the facts and figures. We are grateful that our sons and their CESJDS classmates have developed a passion for their heritage and a bond with Israel--Ahavat Yisrael. Those feelings are the result of families and the institution working together. At this point, the seeds that we have planted and the beautiful saplings we nurtured have grown into fine young trees. We hope and pray that the roots we helped them develop will give them the strength to form their own Jewish families, to pass their knowledge to succeeding generations—Dor L'Dor--and weather the storms that are an inevitable part of life.

We will always appreciate the education our sons received at CESJDS. Although our relationship with the school will now be different, we'll continue to support this school because it is imperative that community Jewish day schools survive. Our local Jewish community needs institutions like CESJDS to teach succeeding generations. Our national Jewish community needs to have a strong, vibrant passionate pluralistic Jewish day school adjacent to our nation's capital.

It is truly wonderful that we too, as parents, made friends that we cherish and intend to remain close with well into the future. This started when our eldest son David was in kindergarten and has continued through Aaron's graduation. Even now, we continue making friends! We are lucky that our boys learned so much at CESJDS. Those lessons, combined with what we did at home and with the CESJDS community helped our sons learn to be comfortable with their Judaism.

Finally, we move to the next phase, proud of our sons and confident that, in partnership with the faculty at CESJDS, we have done our part to connect the next generations of our family to what is often called the golden chain of our Jewish tradition. As an added bonus, we will still get to spend time with and have Shabbat dinners with a great group of alumni parents who will also have a bit more time on their hands!

Schonfeld family at graduation

Suzanne and Josh Schonfeld are the proud parents of CESJDS alumni David '13, Brian '15, and Aaron '17.

The Evolution of Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion
Sara Simon

Each February, Jewish communities across North America mark Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). The largest number of participants in history gathered on Capitol Hill on February 2nd to meet with members of Congress to advocate on behalf of programs involving individuals with disabilities.

Inclusion of individuals with disabilities is now clearly on the Jewish community agenda—and the CESJDS family should be very proud that the co-founder of JDAIM is their own Lenore Layman, Director of Education Support Services.

Many synagogues have disability inclusion committees working with Lisa Handelman, Community Disability Inclusion Specialist at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington (and CESJDS parent!), to ensure that everyone is welcome and able to participate in all aspects of synagogue programming. To see what exciting innovations are occurring locally, take a look at www.shalomdc.org/inclusionplanningtool.

Jewish tradition has long recognized that we are not all alike. One of my favorite sources is from Mishneh Sanhedrin, where we read "Lamah Nivra Ha-Adam Yehidi? Why was only one person created? A king mints many coins and they are all identical but the Holy One Blessed be He created us all from the same Adam and not one of us is identical to the other." Throughout our literature, sages recognized and accommodated different learning styles and abilities.

I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. I lived through, and was able to be part of, the tremendous changes of the past forty plus years in my role as Special Needs Consultant of the Board of Jewish Education of Greater Washington (later re-named the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning).

Federal legislation in 1974 mandated an appropriate education for all. Children with disabilities were to be taught in the least restrictive environment. The public school systems were required to make the necessary modifications and provide support to make it happen—and parents of children in non-public schools started to demand that the same opportunities also be available to them.

Special Education Services attracted attention as an entitlement. I remember when CESJDS set up its first Learning Center in 1981, staffed by teachers with masters' degrees in special education, to support students in general and Judaic studies. Funding to establish learning centers in three area Jewish day schools was provided by the Federation in response to the recommendation of its Unmet and Unclassified Needs Committee. There were very few other Jewish day schools in North America that contained replicable models so Washington was challenged to create its own.

A coalition of parochial schools through The Board of Jewish Education of Greater Washington and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese strongly lobbied the Montgomery County Public Schools and the State of Maryland. With the help of pro bono lawyers, we sought to receive teacher training, testing and, at various points in the ongoing negotiations, on-site speech language and learning disabilities support or pass through funding for eligible students in compliance with the legislation. Again, Washington was in the forefront at a critical juncture in the national movement.

Through the years, classroom teachers are increasingly able to accommodate students' individual learning needs through differentiated curriculum and instruction. CESJDS has developed a comprehensive student support system so that youngsters who may have left the school in the past, because they were not able to deal with the intensive dual curricula, are now functioning effectively and happily along with their classmates.

There is still lots of hard work ahead as our Jewish Community explores ways to create appropriate educational opportunities for students with more complex needs and disabilities—and I am confident that CESJDS will continue to respond.

The wonderful blessing ends in "Meshaneh Ha-b'riyot", God created us as unique individuals. We are commanded to recognize that each of us has value and gifts to offer—and may we respond accordingly during the other months of the year beyond February.

Sara Simon is Director Emerita of the Special Needs Department, Board of Jewish Education of Greater Washington.

In order to BE anything, you have to DO a lot of something
Nancy Wassner
Nancy Wassner, CESJDS English Teacher

Read the remarks below that Nancy Wassner, High School English Teacher, delivered to the CESJDS Class of 2017 at their Siyyum on Friday, February 10, 2017 as the faculty speaker.


Good morning friends, families, special guests, Paul Blank. And good morning –boker tov-- to the Class of 2017. I feel very privileged to speak to you this morning. I did the math, and it turns out I have taught about 85% of this class in tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade English as well as K'hillah. Of the rest, I've probably caught you out of class in the hallway or made you cover your head during KabShab. But just in case I've somehow missed the opportunity share my wisdom with each of one of you, I've got you now. So listen up, chevreh.

Sometime in my junior or senior year of high school, I got a promotional poster in the mail from a college in Oregon. It said, "You already are what you want to be when you grow up." And I thought that was just the coolest poster. I had zero intention of going to college in Oregon, but I put that poster on my wall, and I thought, "Yeah. I AM already what I want to be when I grow up. I TOTALLY know what that means!"

I had no idea what that meant.

When I started teaching here at CESJDS five years ago, the school had just begun an effort to emphasize three values: k'hillah, community; ahrayut, responsibility; and derekh eretz, which we translated at the time to mean respect. I think that we do a pretty good job here with community and responsibility, k'hillah and ahrayut. But, it's the third one, respect, that I have been thinking about.

Currently, in the eight core values of our school, we translate derekh eretz as ethical responsibility. I think you all have a sense of that. I don't worry that you are not respectful people. No, I am concerned that we may have misled you in this school. By creating an atmosphere of respect here, I worry that you might graduate and go into the great big world thinking that you are a person deserving of respect in every scenario. And I'm here to tell you that in most scenarios, right now, at the age of 17 or 18, you are not deserving of respect. Just like at the age of 17, I was not the person I wanted to be when I grew up. Because we don't just magically get to be whatever we want.

To me, it's a matter of verbs. In order to BE anything, you have to DO a lot of something. In order to be good at basketball, you have to do a lot of running. You have to drill. You have to take a lot of shots. You have to practice. In order to be a good singer, you have to sing a lot of scales. You have to breathe in weird ways to isolate muscles you never even knew you had. You have to practice. In order to be a good writer or dancer or layner of Torah or speaker of another language, you have to practice. There are a lot of action verbs involved in being anything.

In the same way, you don't just—poof!—become a person worthy of respect. It takes practice. It takes actions. Plural actions. You don't just need to show up; you need to show up on time. Every day. You don't just need to try to meet expectations; you actually have to meet them. You don't just need to pretend to listen in class or in staff meetings while you're really chatting with your friends online; you have to listen for real and ask real questions. You have to show respect for whatever it is you are trying to do or trying to be. You have to show respect for yourself.

Respecting yourself is hard. It's not the same as thinking you're fun or cute or are a good athlete or artist. Those are self-confidence, which does not require any basis in reality. Again, self-respect comes from actions. From knowing that you have done the right thing. Or that you are going to do the right thing tomorrow. Or that you messed up this time, but you've learned, and next time, you will get it right. That's self-respect. That's integrity. And integrity, like every other skill, is not something you just—poof!—get. You have to practice.

Over and over again in your life, starting right now and continuing forever, you will have to decide what is the right thing for you. Your classes on ethical dilemmas and current issues should help you on some of the big questions. Your other classes may help you in other ways. Math classes will help you create budgets. Science classes will help you understand the natural world. Foreign language will help you communicate with other cultures. Your experiences in Zman Kodesh will help you figure out the right kind of spiritual life for you. And English class should have taught you how to respond should you find yourself at a raucous party hosted by a maybe-bootlegger/maybe-German spy. Or meeting up with a lovable ragamuffin named Huckleberry floating down the Mississippi. History class, by the way, hopefully has taught you what to do if you find yourself somehow in the wrong century.

But I admit that you will rarely find yourself time traveling. Instead, you're going to find yourself facing lots of options, a lot fewer rules, and parents a lot farther away. And when you face those options, you are definitely going to make some really bad decisions. You're going to look back and think, "Well, that was dumb. Why did I do that?" I'll tell you why. Because you have to make wrong decisions to learn which are the right ones for you. You have to push boundaries sometimes to learn where they are. And knowing where your boundaries are, where your wrong and right are, those are the beginnings of integrity.

The rest is action. The rest is choosing to do the right thing. Not the thing other people tell you is right, but the thing you know deep down is right for you. And not just once. Not just when it's fun. But time after time, when it's hard. When you are tired and your muscles ache, and you do it anyway because you know what I did not when I was 17. You are not yet the person you want to be when you grow up. But you can become that person. It's just going to take a lot of action verbs.

And this is what I hope for you. As a school, as a k'hillah, we have tried to give you the tools to be people of integrity, to be people worthy of respect. Over my five years here, I've seen the Class of 2017 learn, grow, and mature into this incredible group. And you are incredible. We are so proud of you. Mazal tov to you and your families on this day of your Siyyum, this day of your finishing, reaching a huge milestone in your lives. You deserve every accolade and congratulations and hug you receive today. But as of Sunday, your Commencement, your new beginning, all those verbs are in your hands. Go and do. And I wish you hamon hatzlacha, lots of success.

Nancy Wassner is a CESJDS High School English Teacher and Coordinator of the Irene and Daniel Simpkins Senior Capstone Israel Trip.

Eleven and a Half Years Later
Arielle Weinstein '17
Arielle Weinstein, Class of 2017

"You're Jewish, and you're going to a Jewish day school next year."

Those were the fateful words that had greeted me in the car ride home after another arduous day of first grade, and the ones that originally introduced me to this multifaceted and malleable concept known as a "Jewish identity." I had done Jew-esque things prior to the beginning of my CESJDS career -- a cousin's bar mitzvah here, a Hanukkah party there -- but in the moment that my mom let me in on the existence of Judaism, I felt a bit like the young Harry Potter when he was first accosted by Hagrid: "You're a Jew, Arielle."

Lucky for me, the JDS community proved to be much more welcoming than the wizarding world, and through its pluralism showed me that a Jewish identity comes in many shapes and sizes. My most formative experiences were spent probing at this identity, whether it was in Zman Kodesh or class. I had the opportunity to participate in the Derekh T'filah, Masorti and Mehitzah Sepharadi minyans, all of which helped me discover what I personally find valuable in prayer and practice. My Jewish text and history courses worked alongside this spiritual education, allowing me to explore both the unique ideologies of my peers and our shared culture. One of these more memorable classes was History of Arab-Israeli Conflict, a course I found particularly challenging for how it forced me to confront my relationship with Israel. Looking back at this constant influx of knowledge and controversies and opinions, I am grateful that I did not grow up particularly observant to one denomination. JDS taught me how to embrace a community of spiritual and ideological diversity while also constructing and maintaining my own Jewish identity.

With the encouragement of guidance counselors, teachers and classmates, my identity continued to grow beyond the walls of the classroom. I spent two summers at Camp Ramah in New England and still cherish the memories of beautiful Havdalah services, deeply informative text-based discussions and laughing with lifelong friends. A short while later, the need for community service hours drove me to volunteer as an assistant teacher at my synagogue's Sunday school, but my ever-expanding appreciation for a Jewish education led me to stay on long after I had fulfilled the graduation requirement. My most recent extracurricular adventure was through the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology's SciTech program, which brings together high school students from around the world to work in various laboratories at the Technion's campus in Israel. Besides the invaluable research opportunity, the experience allowed me to travel all around Israel for the first time. While I loved my History of Arab-Israeli Conflict class, nothing came close to seeing the country for itself, and I cannot wait to get back there with my grade in less than two weeks' time.

Speaking of the indelible Class of 2017, it is still hard to believe that our school year, Prom, Siyyum and Graduation are all over. I most enjoyed the new JDS tradition our grade had the honor of starting: walking through the halls of the Lower School in caps and gowns. Passing by the first JDS classroom I was ever a part of and looking down at the smiling faces of those second-grade students, I could not help but feel a little envious of all the magical experiences they have ahead of themselves. Meanwhile, I am trying to focus on the future. I look forward to further developing my Jewish identity at the University of Chicago this fall, and while I know I will never be able to replace what eleven and a half years at JDS have given me, I am excited to join larger and even more diverse Jewish communities there. Starting from scratch at a campus notoriously known as "where fun goes to die" sounds terrifying, but I was never one to shy away from a challenge.

Arielle Weinstein is a recent CESJDS graduate in the Class of 2017.

How is Pluralism Defined at CESJDS?
Rabbi Matthew Bellas

Pluralism is one of CESJDS's eight core values. We also call ourselves a pluralistic community day school. Rabbi Matthew Bellas, Lower School Principal, dives into how CESJDS defines and interprets these terms. Learn more about our core values at www.cesjds.org/values.

Watch the video on YouTube.

Enhancing the CESJDS Arts Program Through Voice
Aaron Dunn
Aaron Dunn, Vocal Music Teacher at CESJDS

Go to any other school in the country and ask middle and high schoolers about singing, eight times out of ten they will tell you "I can't sing." This trepidation, regardless of accuracy, is understandable. Even without the stress of adolescent voice changing, popular media has lifted singing and the ability to sing to such lofty heights that it becomes almost unreachable. Reality shows like "American Idol" and "America's Got Talent" communicate that in order to sing, you need just that: Talent. If you don't have it, then there's no point in even trying.

When I first joined the faculty at CESJDS, I was thrilled to see that the students were practically untouched by the anxiety produced by these standards. Students line up to perform in front of a crowd of warm and supportive peers at Kabbalat Shabbat. The melodic sound of nusach permeates the halls during Z'man Kodesh. Even during the trial lesson of my interview process, I was floored by the innate vocal and musical abilities within the student body here.

With so much ability and desire, it's imperative to create opportunities that emphasize the inclusive nature of voice while also raising the bar on what is possible to achieve. Singing is for everyone. We are all gifted with an incredible instruments from birth, but just like any instrument it takes training and knowledge to know how to maximize its potential. It is my goal to help each student find the power within their voices and help them explore their capacities for music making.

Not only am I new to the school, but this is the first year that the "Vocal Music Teacher" position exists. Through this new position, I have several principal responsibilities:

First, I am the music director for the Musicals here at CESJDS. Having recently closed The Mystery of Edwin Drood, I was blown away by the dedication and caliber of the students who participated. Most especially by their desire to improve. Students frequently sought extra coaching time to make sure that they had mastered the music and were performing it to the best of their ability. As we now begin rehearsals for the Middle School Musical, James and the Giant Peach, I see the same enthusiasm and investment in our middle schoolers.

Additionally, I have the unique pleasure of directing the A Cappella Choir, Shir Madness. Few schools have a group that has such a genuine desire for k'hilah and deep devotion to the ensemble. It has been a delight learning the different traditions that come with the group, as well as learning about what makes the group special to the students. It is my goal to encourage the group towards musical excellence as well as musical community, coupling their joy in music making with the skills necessary to create the highest quality music possible.

This year also marks the inaugural year of the Middle School Choir. As we move forward, we endeavor to begin a High School Choir meeting during the day as additional music elective. These choirs will explore the vast scope of choral music, including the impressive canon of Jewish choral music. All the while, students will learn how to find their musical voices through singing and tap into the musicality that already exists within them.

I am thrilled to have joined a community that puts such value on the arts and is dedicated to its growth within the life of the school. I am also honored to be a part of its growth and will work to foster excellence within the students, both musical and otherwise.

Aaron Dunn is the Vocal Music teacher at the Upper School.

Powered by Finalsite