Instilling the Joy of Jewish Service with Soille Hebrew Day Schoolby Jacqueline Bull July 29, 2019
Rabbi Simcha Weiser has been the head of school for Soille Hebrew Day School since 1981 and it seems the mission has largely stayed the same: connect young people with Judaism and their Jewish identity and inspire them to enter the world with responsibility and purpose.
He said that parents can get caught up in the idea of choosing between having a
child that is really strong academically or having one that is good-hearted and kind.
“Feeling that you are a capable person and within you are important qualities that will really help other people; that is very very important and very critical to kids being capable, feeling themselves capable, [and] seeing themselves as capable,” he said.
He sees a change in a student’s during their time at the school where they move toward seeing themselves as a young adult that can contribute to the world; and this improves their self esteem “in the healthiest way possible.”
“There are ten teachers who work very hard to build the knowledge base of Judaism to connect the kids to the Torah itself (which of course is all about the history and legacy of the Jewish people) and then also to give them experiences of working in the community and doing for the community from the vantage point of being a Jewish person inspired by the kindness of Abraham, the generosity that the Jewish people are known for, and the responsibility the Jewish people have to the world to be a light onto the nations. That’s not just a slogan for kids in our school, that is a responsibility that they grow into from preschool, though elementary school, through middle school, through community service, from doing a lot of really important good things in the community,” he said.
The school has a day of service when the entire middle school leaves the campus. Kids head out to several different locations, like the food pantry or Seacrest Village, and get hands-on experience volunteering in the community.
“They [come] back to school at the end of the day feeling, ‘Wow, I’ve made a difference in the San Diego community. And as a young developing Jewish person, I’ve exercised my responsibility to contribute to the world today,’” he said.
“Let’s say you have a kid who is in the middle school and he goes to the Jewish Family Services’ food bank to volunteer and to give back to the community … By volunteering at Jewish Family Service, we are emphasizing the Jewish role within our hearts. As Jewish people, we need to be concerned for others. I think that is an important distinction for us to make in the minds and hearts of our children, that being kind is part and parcel of being Jewish just as is being concerned about the welfare of the state of Israel,” he said.
This culminates in an end-of-year Israel trip that all of the graduates go on together as a class.
“[They] spend ten days touring and visiting places that they’ve learned about in the Torah that are familiar to them … Kids have an attachment to Jewish learning and knowledge and source material that makes these places so much more meaningful,” he said.
For this year’s Israel trip there was considerable thought on how to design the trip and what the students would see and do together. And according to Rabbi Weiser, the feedback this year was the best ever so far, so they are going to continue to build on that.
“We got the kids more involved in projects while they were in Israel in terms of being of service to specific communities, to honoring the service of soldiers when they were there, in terms of actually being involved in a food distribution center there where they volunteer for half a day packing Shabbat baskets for needy families and knowing that they were going to be distributed to families that otherwise might go hungry over Shabbat.”
“Parents are amazed at how proud it makes the child feel about themselves. You really see children turning into young adults who feel as though, ‘I have something important to give the world.’ That is at the heart of what we want to see in our students,” he said.
“It is really what the world is looking for now. You know even at work people don’t close the door and sit in a quiet room with a pencil and paper and work things out. They work in groups, you need social skills, you need advocacy skills, you need listening skills,” he said.