High School Perspective (February) - Brett Kugler
Brett Kugler Z'man Kodesh Leader and High School Learning Specialist

Z'man Kodesh in Theory and in Practice 

I often ponder a line from a British poem entitled “The Mask of Anarchy” which states:

“Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number-

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many-they are few.”

This poem, written by Percy Bysshe Shelley, speaks of freedom through nonviolence. Not only is this poem relevant in today’s political climate, in finding ways to bring positive change through nonviolence, but I also believe it rings true to the goals of our Z’man Kodesh program. It speaks to starting each day with motivation and vigor, like a lion: to quickly dispersing with sleep, seizing the moment to grow as people, and as a direct result, working to make the world a better place.

The Torah in Bereishit (19:27) states:

וַיַּשְׁכֵּ֥ם אַבְרָהָ֖ם בַּבֹּ֑קֶר אֶל־הַ֨מָּק֔וֹם אֲשֶׁר־עָ֥מַד שָׁ֖ם אֶת־פְּנֵ֥י ה"׃ 

Avraham got up early in the morning (and returned)

to the place where he had stood before G-d (in prayer).

In connecting this to our Z’man Kodesh program, it is important that just like Avraham and the words of Shelley, we too should start our day “Rising like lions after slumber.” In each one of our holy spaces, students are engaging with Jewish liturgy, taking on leadership roles, and accessing spirituality through multiple modalities of learning. This learning takes place first thing in the morning, and has the ability to set a positive tone for the day, inculcating students with a spiritual connection and a positive lens through which they can connect to their heritage. Here you will find information sharing the many wonderful programmatic opportunities in which our students are engaging each morning.

In practice, while Zoom can be challenging because of the lack of connectedness, our goals for the year are unwavering. In an effort to build a strong foundation rooted in prayer and/or spirituality, the staff encourages students to take on leadership roles in a variety of ways including leading parts of the tefilah service, making presentations relating to art museums they’ve visited, hearing from guest speakers about mental health, and engaging in journaling activities relating to the haggim. Students new to the school are learning foundational elements which give an overview of Judaism, its holidays, and its liturgy which will serve as a gateway into other Z’man Kodesh options in the future.

There are successes aplenty, and the hope is that we will continue to develop content in each Z’man Kodesh that empowers our students to learn and take action. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, a “Z’man Kodesh Council” will be formed, composed of students representing each Z’man Kodesh with the goal of sharing ideas, successes, and struggles in an effort to use student input to strengthen our program. We hope to build confident and knowledgeable members of the Jewish community who connect in a variety of ways to their Judaism. But even further, we hope to continue to develop a sense of pride and understanding in our culture and heritage as well.

Often, the word diversity is used in our community as a point of pride. As a pluralistic day school, we preach the importance of diversity and acceptance. Yet, through the eyes of students, they so often hear the word “diversity” and ask themselves, “How are we as a school of Jewish people a diverse population?” However, through Z’man Kodesh, one of our goals is to show the students that diversity can be viewed through many lenses. In the Mehitza Sephardi minyan for example, students are virtually visiting different synagogues all over the world. Each week they set their backgrounds to a specific synagogue, and pray in a different virtual location. After minyan they then have the privilege to hear from the rabbis in these communities and to learn what makes their community unique, as well as their strengths and their struggles. They are gaining a deeper appreciation for the “diversity” within their own religion, and finding out that their classmates’ families originate from all over the world, and each have unique customs and traditions. To hear from an individual who looks into the camera and states, “There are only 20 Jews in my country of 53 million. I make up 5% of the Jewish population,” forces the students to look outside of their bubble, and to realize that we are one people with many faces. We learn from our past to build our future. As the year progresses, the hope is that students will continue to learn prayers, connect to the service, grow in their spirituality, and to embrace a love of their Jewish culture and heritage while feeling empowered to take this knowledge out into the world and build a better tomorrow.