A School, a Shofar, and a Question

Penny and Claudio Pincus recently traveled to Israel and visited a school that's part of a JDC program called "Schools With a Heart," for which they have been providing vitally important funding.

This unique endeavor is testing an approach to identify, diagnose, assist, counsel, and guide children at risk of poor performance given either social, psychological, or cognitive difficulties.

Penny and Claudio visited Kadima, a primary school in Kiriat Bialik, an area of Haifa. The school was selected to be a pilot and embraced the opportunity; the major, principal, and teachers personally mobilized the city in support.

The Pincus family was given presentations on the initiative, the unique challenges encountered, and many cases of successful outcomes. Children told of their journeys and what it felt like to overcome difficulties. Teachers shared the value of the new “tool box” they received through special training and of the support from professionals provided by the JDC program. Penny and Claudio witnessed how children from different races, backgrounds, and intellectual capacities are integrated under one big roof.

Below is a letter they wrote following their visit.


Dear Children, Teachers, and Principal of Beit Sefer Kadima, Kiriat Bialik, Makom B'lev,

Penny and I visited you this last September 15, and you welcomed us in your school by showing us with great pride the classrooms, the music room, and other facilities and telling us about the different programs in which you now participate. Many of you spoke in English, played the piano, sang songs, and acted out parts of a new drama. We came for two hours and stayed for more than four, and we enjoyed lunch and fruits.

You gave us two presents: a collection of pictures of teachers and the community – the “Family of Makom B'lev” – and a Shofar.

Since that day, I have been thinking: Why did the children select a Shofar to express your feelings?

Was it because you wanted to make sure that Penny and I would fulfill the mitzvah of Lishmoah Kol Shofar (listening to the Shofar)? And the shofar sound would be a great thank you?

Or was it that 100 children wished that each of the 100 shofar blasts (the number we are commanded to sound on Rosh Hashanah) would be a celebration of the accomplishment of each one, thanks to this special program and community, Makom B'lev?

Or was it that 100 children wished that the 100 shofar blasts would remind us that in the next year we should think of another 100 children who are in need of help?

Or was it your wish that the Tekia Gedola (the long, clear shofar blast) would be a bridge to heaven, Gesher L'shamayim, that will bring the angels to this school?

The Akeida Itzjak (the story of the binding of Isaac, read at Rosh Hashanah) tell us about the past, the times of danger that existed until the Shofar, blown by the angels, announced our transformation forever as a people and individuals.

Children, let me tell you. This Shofar represents the essence of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). We were all children at risk, just like you. All of us asked for help when we were in danger. And some, not many, realized that we can be the angels, hiding our faces so that you and children yet to come can sing the song of our fathers, "Kol Ha'Olam Kulo."

Kol ha'olam kulo
Gesher tzar me'od
Veha'ikar lo lifached k'lal.

The whole world
Is a very narrow bridge
and the main thing is to have no fear at all.

(lyrics: Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)

— Claudio and Penny Pincus, Rosh Hashanah 5777


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