Teaneck—“Team-building with Tani,” “Navigating the South Pacific on a Scotch Tape Budget,” “Psychology at the End of the World,” “Halakhic Parameters of Self-Preservation,” “Drive to Survive: When a Movie’s Hero Fights for his Life,” “Man vs. Nature in the Literary Imagination”—what kind of a school day could accommodate all of these topics and more under one banner?
Book Day 2014 at Torah Academy of Bergen County, held on March 25th, hoped to fulfill that mission, using Endurance, by Alfred Lansing, which details Sir Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica and the trials that he and his crew endured from 1914 to 1916, as its starting point.
“It is always difficult to decide on a book that will be enjoyable to read, as well as one that includes enough related topics around which to build an entire day,” remarked one of the Book Day Coordinators, Mrs. Leah Moskovits. “In fact, when Endurance was suggested to us, we were unsure at first. So many nautical terms to plow through and, after all, we all knew how the story would conclude—Sir Ernest Shackleton would not accomplish his original mission of traversing the Antarctic on foot, but would succeed in bringing all of his men home alive after enduring seemingly unbearable conditions for almost two years. But then, something unexpected occurred! We started reading and found the book so riveting that we couldn’t put it down.” Together with student and faculty committees, “we decided to use the book as a springboard for workshops, presentations and hands-on activities that explored effective leadership, strong survival skills and successful teamwork.” Book Day 2014 began to take shape.
The day began with our keynote speaker, a Bergen County resident, Mr. Norman Burns, a 9/11 survivor who started his workday on Sept. 11, 2001, on the 62nd floor of the World Trade Center. Sincerely and emotionally, using every detail he could conjure in his mind’s eye, he told the students his miraculous story of escaping from the building, fleeing the neighborhood and eventually riding through the Holland Tunnel in the sole vehicle leaving New York State. Riveted though they were by his personal story of survival, the students were soon off to their next activity, attending any one of 13 sessions that they had previously chosen, given by faculty members and outside presenters, with such diverse titles as “Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood? A First-hand Experience in Group Dynamics,” “The Arctic Underworld,” “Building on the Written Word,” “Are We in Control of Our Destiny or is God?” and “A Halakhic Approach to Engaging in Risky Behavior.” Another exciting option was Dr. Shalom Fisch and Mr. James Fry’s “Drawing on the Real World: From Real Life to Comics.” This is the third year that Dr. Fisch, a writer and developmental psychologist, and Mr. Fry, an illustrator in all media, have presented popular hands-on workshops.
As most students ran to their next session, the excitement was palpable as they climbed the steps to the student lounge, eagerly ready to engage in team-building exercises with Rabbi Tani Prero, Director of Yagilu Wilderness at Camp Morasha, or entered the debate of “Leaving Someone Behind, Would You Have Peace of Mind?” Sprinkled among the second sessions were some new ones—“Victim vs. Survivor” and “Be Prepared with the Boy Scouts,” led by Professional Scouter and Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force Mr. Joel Lieberman, and, the most exciting because it included two presenters who made their topic come alive, “Technology and Prosthetics,” in which patient advocate and amputee Joshua Arrington showed how he used his computerized leg, as prosthetist Herschel Sauber simultaneously monitored what was occurring on his laptop and explained how new advances in technology have revolutionized the science of prosthetics nowadays.
After a hearty lunch of cholent, simulating the “hoosh” that Shackleton’s men ate during their Antarctic expedition, and a third set of sessions, the students were privileged to attend the United States Coast Guard presentation in which two helicopter rescue swimmers, or Aviation Survival Technicians, gave a lesson in survival training. Some of the boys were lucky enough to try on the rescue equipment that Petty Officers Cory Ciekot and Hector Eagan brought along for demonstration purposes. With student-made videos that answered the question of what to use if one were stranded on an island and had to come up with some creative answers capping the day, all went home exhausted but knowledgeable about concepts that they never dreamed of experiencing during a regular school day.
It is hard to imagine a more informative and engrossing day than Book Day. This is the fourth year that Mrs. Leah Moskovits, librarian of TABC, and Dr. Carol Master, Chair of the English Department, have coordinated this event devoted to reading and learning as one community. In the past, using such books as the graphic memoir Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, and the novel Snow in August, by Pete Hamill, exposed our students to new worlds and cultures. Last year, Out of the Depths by Rabbi Israel Meir Lau brought not only the Holocaust, but the establishment of the State of Israel, directly into our hearts and minds. This year’s selection, however, brought us to a new level, one that showed us that we could discover our own potential as leaders and team players, no matter how different the world of the book might seem from our own. It is no wonder that the students remarked that the day was “not merely amazing but phenomenal.”
By Carol Master