Dear MJDS Friends,
And the seasons they go round and round...
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return, we can only look behind from where we came
And go round and round and round in the circle game...
It was the summer of 1982 and I called the Milwaukee Jewish Day School to inquire about a music position for myself and Kindergarten admission for my almost five-year-old daughter, Marisa. I spoke with Dr. Doris Shneidman and we discovered that we would both be in Boston in August and could meet at the CAJE Conference at Brandeis University.
"How would we know one another?" I asked. "I will be wearing something red and will look shlumpy," answered Doris. We were to meet on the hill at Brandeis University and she would be accompanied by Merzy Eisenberg, the now legendary Hebrew teacher of her then very small team of teachers. (What did we do without cell phones?). We somehow found each other on that hill and so it began. It was B'shert (fate). I have often heard the story of how they hired me that day as the school's first music teacher. After parting company, Doris questioned Merzy, "How do we know whether she can sing?" Merzy answered in her always confident fashion, "I could tell by her speaking voice!"
We were moving to Milwaukee from Canada so that my then husband, Michael Morgan, could begin a position as Director of UWM Hillel. It eventually became a family affair with Michael and I both working as MJDS teachers, where Marisa and Ilana attended school for their elementary and middle school years. It was to be a short stopover back East. Instead it turned into seventeen years of helping to build a phenomenal Jewish day school and community, joyful teaching and learning, experiencing Judaism through the holiday celebrations and Torah cycle, creating innovative and collaborative programs, and making lifelong friends and memories.
And yes, I sang. We all sang. Shabbat Sing began and has continued to this day. The memories of Shabbat Sing resonate with alumni, students, teachers, staff, parents, and grandparents. We had a repertoire that included David Melech Yisrael (question and answer refrain led by Merzy), several versions of Hine Ma Tov, a three-part Shabbat Shalom, Debbie Friedman songs, beautiful Israeli songs inspired by famed and beloved Hebrew and Judaica teacher, Adina Altshul, and the ever popular, Are You Ready for the Summer? Shabbat Sing has had a lasting effect on the MJDS community, as well as on the Milwaukee Jewish Community and beyond.
But the singing and music did not end there. Music classes included games like the Statue Game and Jack in the Box. The children learned to sing by interval through the Kodaly System, and accompanied Folk Fair and Israel Fair songs on the recorder and Orff instruments. Meaningful and melodic Israeli songs like Eretz Eretz and Ani Mavtiach Lach brought tears to the eyes of the students and their teachers. These moving songs and many others were performed by the MJDS Choir at both in-school events and in the community. And then there was Moving on with Abraham. I do not recall how the idea was ignited, but Sandy Brusin and I were suddenly propelled into creating a full-scale musical of epic proportion, complete with over a dozen original songs, hand-sewn costumes (still in my basement today-thank you for your patience, Irv), and scenery painted by the extraordinarily talented teacher and artist, Rena Porat.
I have such an overwhelming feeling of pride when I hear about our alumni and all they have accomplished in every field and endeavor, both Jewish and secular. Several of the very talented students who performed or worked backstage in our plays have gone on to study acting or technical theater and went on to nationally renowned companies and productions. They got their start in the Ritz Theater, belting out their songs, acting, dancing, designing and painting cardboard scenery, and learning the craft of lighting design.
Doris Shneidman motivated her faculty to grow professionally by letting each of us step out on a limb in order to create what had never been tried before. Whether it was the theater program, the remarkable Hebrew and Judaica classes and teachers, the CSMP math curriculum, initiated by Roberta Schaalman, the science fair highlighting critical thinking and advanced research, brought to life by incredible science teacher, Sarah-ann Friedman, or the MJDS Middle School, with its focus on social and emotional well-being as well as stellar academics, created and led by devoted teachers, Sarah-Ann-Friedman and Nancy Greenman z'l.
My daughters, Marisa Morgan and Ilana Forbes, still vividly remember their time in Geveret Wolkenstein's creative and nurturing Kindergarten class and being rewarded with headstands by the multi-talented Geveret Eisenberg. All of their dedicated teachers and my colleagues, who are truly memorable and too numerous to mention here, contributed to our amazing years at MJDS. I would be remiss if I did not mention one more influence on our lives. Those students who were fortunate enough to have been in Geveret Honigman's middle school math and "computer" classes, were challenged beyond their years. Actually, if it were not for Bunny's computer inservice sessions for faculty, I would not be writing this to you now on Google Docs and sharing it with Michal Deskalo, who was my adorable student and now has the very same challenging job that I do as Director of Admissions (wow!).
Thank you, Doris, for your wisdom, your vision, and for making it all happen! Mazal tov to all of my students, colleagues, and dear friends for being the pioneers for 36 exemplary, innovative, and inspirational years!
(Geveret, now Grandma) Sandi Morgan Dunn