To Every Season--A Time for Yes

To Every Season--A Time for Yes
  • Outside the Classroom
Shayna Friedman

By Shayna Friedman, Director of Admission


On October 20 of this year, my boss said, “Yes” and set Denver Jewish Day School on a transformative trajectory. Almost two weeks after the horrific pogrom Hamas inflicted on Israeli citizens, my phone and inbox started filling with people who needed our help. They told me about frequent trips to bomb shelters with their young children, watching the news and scrolling social media to find information about missing friends and family, homes burnt and friends and loved ones lost to terror. They asked if we could help them. Some of them had family who welcomed them to Denver to rest and recuperate. Others came here simply because they desperately needed a change of scenery. But as the days wore on, the realities of parenting through trauma, while alone in a foreign country were setting in. 


I explained all of this to my boss, DJDS Head of School, Avi Halzel on a Sunday afternoon. He patiently listened as I recounted, in detail, the stories of our counterparts in Israel and asked if we could help them. I acknowledged that I knew it would be hard, that I didn’t know anything about how to support refugees escaping trauma, and that it would probably cost money. After I finished with my horrible sales pitch and without a moment’s hesitation, Avi said yes. I think his actual words were, “of course.”  “Of course” Denver Jewish Day School will welcome Israeli guests into our school every day. “Of course” we know they are fleeing trauma and will need additional resources. “Of course” we’ll ensure they get ELL instruction if needed. “Of course” I realize this is a huge undertaking, and “of course”, we’ll figure it out.


The next day, we had a staff meeting. To be honest, I’m pretty sure I left it with more questions than answers, but I got on the phone with the parents of 17 Israeli children and told them we were ready to welcome them to our school. And then, the magic happened. Our principals met with every family to ascertain their needs and customize their transition plan, assigning student buddies and readying the faculty. They hired and trained a new staff member, Eldad Malka, to be the liaison to these new families, and Upper Division principal, Dr. G-T even managed to send the older kids who wished to go on class trips. Teachers prepared current students with lessons about open tent flaps and ways to express empathy. Non-native Hebrew speakers were stretching their vocabulary to the max.  Dr. Natalie Mohan, the school psychologist, made lists of Hebrew-speaking therapists and other available behavioral health resources.  Lower Division Principal Elana Shapiro said to faculty, “We’re going to build this ship while we sail it,” and we have traveled far on this sea of fearless embracement. 


Behind the scenes, our community engagement manager, Alyson Slatkin, created process flows outlining who would be responsible for what, organized pop-up coffees to introduce our new friends to current families, and managed the biggest spreadsheet I’ve ever seen to match make every family’s needs with donations or volunteers from around the school and larger community (enabling one family to furnish their rental house in the coming months). Our Director of Innovation, Chagit Gibor, took an especially vulnerable family from Kibbutz Beeri under her wing to help them navigate the bureaucracy of resettlement in the US. And, of course, our development team, Krista Boscoe and Sam Walsh, initiated a special campaign to raise additional funds (beyond the $1.5 million they already raise annually) to cover the costs required to absorb so many new students in such a short time, in addition to the increased cost of adding another security officer to ensure all of our families feel safe having their children here.


And then there are the volunteers. My phone rang off the hook with DJDS families who wanted to help. Within 24 hours of circulating a volunteer sign-up form, there were more than 60 responses (Fun fact, DJDS families love Tupperware and colanders). Winter clothes were delivered. An alumni family hosted an ice cream party. Another is sheltering a mother and daughter in their home.  Mental health professionals offered their expertise. Hebrew speakers volunteer nearly every day in classrooms, including our beloved former teacher Morah Esti (aka Esti Applebaum). Kitchens will be stocked. While the material supply may have exceeded the demand, there has been infinite compassion and generosity.


In my darkest moments, I am panicked both about how this story began and how it ends. The horror of October 7 can not be erased by a cup of coffee, a donated Lego set, or a gently used loveseat.  Lives were destroyed literally and figuratively, and it is less than three months behind us. Israelis and world Jewry face a long, uphill journey to recovery. Can I seriously think I can be impactful in the face of this existential crisis? As hard as it is, the answer can only be yes, of course.



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