Menachem Mendel Academy hosted a community-wide event at the beginning of September to celebrate the school’s new campus — which includes a Beis Hamedrash, gymnasium, woodwork room, science lab, art room, library and extra classrooms. With over 250 people in attendance, the different workshops and activities available included a shofar factory, a bounce house, food and school tours. But it was the Jewish book fair that provided cause for the most excitement.
Visitors and parents strolled past various Jewish texts, using the opportunity to purchase books for the home or for gifting to family. Copies could be ordered of any of the 6,000 different works available. In addition to buying copies for their own use, visitors could also choose to place orders as donations to the school.
By the end of the day, MMA had received almost $5,000 in book donations, a sizeable start as it looks to complete and fully establish its new library.
This is only MMA’s second academic year of operation. Last year, MMA started as a first- through sixth-grade all-boys school, but for this year MMA expanded the boys’ division to grade eight and added classes for girls in first- through sixth-grade. Over the summer, the school hired its new principal, Rabbi Yoseph Wernick. Wernick has nearly 25 years of experience as a teacher and principal in Jewish schools, something that appealed to the newly established MMA.
Chaya Mushka Ben-Shabat, founder and CEO of MMA, praised Wernick’s storied career during the hiring announcement. She cited his reputation as an educator that cared for students and his experience developing faculty to focus on the needs of individual students as a perfect match for MMA. The administration was confident that Wernick would be able to instill students with a connection to the Torah while teaching them to trust in themselves and their abilities. This fit well with the school mission, which is to facilitate learning and mastery of life skills such as time management, emotional management, communication skills, leadership, goal-setting, home management, nutrition, money management and long-term planning, among others.
As part of this alternative approach, MMA allows students to grow plants, take care of animals, participate in school maintenance, learn outdoors and actively prepare for Jewish holidays. However, there is still course work in the classroom, and having more Jewish texts available is a tremendous help.
MMA had three types of text to offer at the book fair. Wernick was given the option of choosing any combination of Jewish books, books that had Jewish themes and general studies books. He decided to avoid the latter entirely due to availability. “I chose Jewish books over general ones because, look around, you can get math and history textbooks everywhere. So this allowed us to get books that aren’t available nearby,” Wernick said. The school administration said it was happy about the final number of donated texts.
Although MMA’s academic year has only just begun its students have been kept busy preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, reviewing the limbic system and taking trips to places like Legoland. While the latter is associated with fun and games, the school administration provided a more thoughtful explanation for the choice in destination: “In Elul, we have been focusing on the concept that Hashem will lovingly judge the whole world in Tishrei, and each person is an entire world on his own. We will apply these concepts at Legoland as we travel through their different ‘miniature worlds’ and bring these principles to life.”
Helping students see the connection between the Jewish faith and the environment around them in a unique way is precisely what MMA and Rabbi Wernick have set out to do. The school will continue to host community events and fundraising opportunities in the future in order to ensure that the academic setting has the proper tools for teaching. It won’t be easy for its library to keep pace with enrollment, but the innovative efforts and local generosity give the administration reason for optimism. JN