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  2005-02-09-San Diego Jewish Academy-25th anniversary
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2005 blog


San Diego Jewish Academy:
A Quarter Century of Teaching

San Diego Jewish Times, 
Feb. 9, 2005

education file

By Donald H. Harrison

Metaphors and analogies to seeds and plants sprouted throughout the day Jan. 25 as the San Diego Jewish Academy celebrated its 25th anniversary and dedicated a garden in memory of popular kindergarten teacher Levana Estline. Fittingly, the occasion coincided with the Jewish holiday of Tu B'Shevat, known popularly as the "Birthday of the Trees."

On hand to help plant the garden were people who were important to the school at its various stages of growth. Among the celebrants were San Diego Jewish Academy's first three presidents, respectively, Charles Wax, Dr. Allen Jay, and John Adler; two teachers who have taught at SDJA its entire quarter century, Karen Rund and Edna Yedid; and a former student who was a member of SDJA's first class, Scott Meltzer, today the rabbi at Congregation Ohr Shalom.

Marsha Berkson, who chaired the 25th anniversary celebration, recalled that Wax, the first president, once related that at its founding in 1979, the Jewish Academy had no money, no students, and no facility. Today, there are 700 students on a 40-acre campus.  Originally based in San Carlos, it branched out to La Jolla, where first an elementary school and, in 1984, a junior high were established.  From La Jolla, the campus moved north to the current facility in Carmel Valley, where its high school took root.  To those involved in each stage, said Berkson, "we thank you for cultivating the seeds."

Berkson called to the stage a group of elementary school students—"The Class of 2017," she kvelled—who performed the school song, Acharai (Follow Me), written by teacher Sara Geller. Apropos to the day, the lyrics instructed that San Diego Jewish Academy is a  place:

Where all the seeds we plant today
Become the leaders of their day
And as they reach up to the sky
Proud voices shout out 'Acharai'
We are the lights that lead the way...

Another teacher, Shana Lew, retold the Talmud story often recalled on Tu B'Shevat, about a certain Honi who laughed at an old man who was planting a tree.  Did that man think that he ever would see the fruits of that tree?  No, the man patiently explained, but as his ancestors had planted for him, so too would he plant for future generation.  Honi grew tired and slept in a shady place for 70 years.  He awakened to see a beautiful tree, and asked an old man standing nearby if he were the same man whom he had seen plant it.  The old man replied that, to the contrary, he was the grandson of the planter.

"Mordechai Rap" from the forthcoming musical, Esther, was previewed for the donors and parent activitsts.  The rap's rhyme scheme could be interpreted as a salute to the "gardeners" who had planted and tended Jewish education: 

You got to stand up for what you believe in
Cause that's the only way you're gonna be achievin...
You know you gotta stand up, you gotta stand up...

The musical, based on the Book of Esther, will be performed by a cast of 110 SDJA students March 23-26 at UCSD's Mandeville Auditorium.

The ceremony for adults was followed outside by a ceremony for the 700 students and their teachers, with many of the horticultural metaphors repeated.

There were poignant moments as well: Larry Acheatal, SDJA's executive director, told students that Estline, who died in 2003 at age 63, had served as a kindergarten teacher at the school for 18 years, and that present for the occasion were members of her family—husband Tsvi, and children Ofer, Einat and Yael. Teachers and students participated in a short program memorializing Estline before the gates to the 5,000 square foot garden were opened. The family assisted in ribbon cutting and gate-opening ceremonies for the garden.

Inside the gates were various stations, Levana’s Garden being a place not only to cultivate plants — but also minds.  In one area, close to the gate, there is a "butterfly garden," so named because it would be seeded with plant species that naturally attract butterflies.  Down a pathway is a "California Garden, that will be planted with indigenous California plants," said Acheatel, and in another area "there are plants and trees that are native to Israel..."

There also is a "knotted garden" utilizing plants that weave together in the "shape of a Magen David," Acheatel said. Beyond that there will be a "secret garden," to be screened by high hedges, where students may have quiet classes.  A series of raised flower beds—one for every grade from preschool through fifth grade—will be dedicated to growing vegetables

Gan Levana also includes a green house, on top of which "there will be a weather station and our students in middle school will be using that to report weather here in the Carmel Valley area," Acheatel said.

Some of the fruits and vegetables grown by the young gardeners will be donated to programs for the  hungry; tzedakah being another form of San Diego Jewish Academy produce.