I’m writing these words from my middle school office at The Davis Academy, Atlanta’s Reform Jewish Day School. And as I write, I can hear activity all around me. Chairs being moved in the classroom above me. The Front Desk phone ringing as parents come to grab their kids for end-of-day doctors’ appointments, student athletes picking up their gear before heading to an away game, and so much more. If I get a chance to talk a walk around the building I’ll see students engaged in deep secular, Jewish, and imaginative learning. I’ll pass walls that are covered with art and student projects of all types. I’ll see kids checking books out from the Media Center, returning laptops to their charging stations, chatting with teachers in the hallways, and then heading home to hit the books and come back again tomorrow. I’m fairly certain that at 2:45 pm on a Monday afternoon in September, The Davis Academy’s two campuses are the most vibrant and lively centers of Jewish life in this city, maybe even beyond.
When I was ordained by HUC-JIR in 2008 I had absolutely no idea that my rabbinate would unfold in the context of a Jewish Day School like Davis. Aside from attending a Jewish Day School as a kindergartner, I had no mental image of a Jewish Day School, no professional experience in one, and no concept of what is possible at an exceptional Jewish Day School like The Davis Academy. I left HUC-JIR married to my wonderful partner, Rabbi Loren Filson Lapidus. Her calling was for pulpit work, mine was for something else though I didn’t have a particular venue in mind. Over the last 8+ years I can honestly say that not a single day has gone by where I wasn’t proud and humbled to work at Davis. I proudly and loudly consider myself a Day School Rabbi. And I think that’s because of the infectious energy of the kids, the constant optimism of the faculty, the deep devotion of the parents, and the unique opportunities and challenges that fill my days.
It’s difficult to describe what it’s like to be the rabbi of The Davis Academy. I can’t really put into words the many and varied experiences that I’ve shared in by leading more than 500 students on their 8th grade Israel Trip. It’s impossible to describe the profound sorrow and resilience that I witnessed when our school community mourned the unexpected death of a 1st grade child several years ago. Words fail in capturing the sheer power of 600 children singing Hatikvah and the Shema in unison at our weekly Friday morning Kabbalat Shabbat. And there’s no notebook big enough to document the thousands of meaningful interactions that take place here on a weekly basis. My rabbinate has unfolded in the classroom, on the basketball court, on field trips, in the lunch room, on the school bus, in the art room, and in the many other venues that are characteristic of The Day School experience.
There are countless anecdotes I could share that illustrate some of the many facets of what being a Day School rabbi feels like. The other day I walked into the lunch room as a 5th grader was reading a beautiful poem. When she was done I learned that it was a creative version of Birkat Hamazon that she had written and that she was one of many kids that would be sharing their Berachot over the coming months. Today I sat in the “pews” as an 8th grade class led Tefilah. One of the kids introduced “Mi Shebeirach” by saying that it was one of the first prayers he learned when he transferred to Davis a few years ago. At the time he had a close friend who was battling cancer and the prayer gave him tremendous comfort and connection such that he felt compelled to lead it today. The list goes on. Day School presents the possibility of Judaism being the natural context of a child’s life. The line between creativity and Jewish creativity is irrelevant, there’s no such thing as Jewish time or non-Jewish time. There’s a foundational integration that takes place that is really good for the Jewish soul. From the secular to the sacred, from the heartbreaking to the hysterical, life and learning are unfolding all around me and I have the privilege of being the rabbi that is tasked with witnessing, nurturing, celebrating, and guiding this remarkable community each and every day.