Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Students, parents and faculty alike are abuzz with “Kindness Counts,” the Sefirat HaOmer program at Yavneh Academy this spring. The “Kindness Counts” program showers acts of care and kindness throughout the school, families and community.

Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, head of school, explained, “The idea was born at our Shabbos table, while brainstorming ideas on how to remind students to count the Omer in a fun and engaging way. The program accomplishes both, while also celebrating the 78-year legacy of our school, and by including many alumni, current and former teachers, and the occasional celebrity to keep things interesting! The feedback thus far has been fantastic!”

The program has been a collaborative effort, combining many hearts, heads and hands. Morah Rachel Goldman elaborated: “The Yavneh Academy administration and programming team reached out to Yavneh alumni, community leaders, past and present faculty, and ‘Jewish celebrities’/influencers, asking them for a short video reminding our Yavneh community to count the Omer. The idea (had been) presented to the programming team (near) the timing (of) the kindness initiative. So, we decided it would be a great opportunity to join the two, as reminders to do kindness fit beautifully with the themes of Sefirat HaOmer… In addition to having guests remind everyone to count the Omer, each video ends off with a reminder to do an extra act of kindness—Kindness Counts. Video reminders are sent out each night to Yavneh parents, students and faculty.”

Combining the two concepts was the brainchild of Morah Rachel. “Sometimes combining two big ideas weakens a project, but in this case I believe it gave more context to each, and built a powerful structure.” Goldman also took the lead on scheduling the guests and submitting videos to Debbie Abramowitz, director of communications, who then posts on Yavneh’s various social media platforms.

“We also wanted to provide our eighth graders with some leadership opportunities as they would help plan the campaign, and thereby internalize and model the importance of kindness,” said Rabbi Steven Penn, associate head of school. “The program started in the middle school with a dynamic presentation by Mrs. Jackie Bitton. Eighth graders decorated the hallways with kindness signs. Students received scratch-off cards choosing acts of kindness to practice. The campaign quickly spread to the entire school when the counting of Sefirat HaOmer began, with nightly Sefirah messages and Sefirah chart.”

Rabbi Penn elaborated that it was important to “put choosing kindness in the front of our students’ minds each day,” and “to show our students and larger community the importance of kindness—the idea that the world stands on three pillars: Torah, avoda and chesed (kindness) and that kindness gives to both people involved.”

Rabbi Penn concluded, “I hope the participants will gain an appreciation for the feeling of doing kindness for others.”

Morah Russi Shor described the particulars of the program. “The nature of this program is fluid in that students are able to participate if they choose to.” The goal was to create an environment of encouragement, not one of feeling forced. When Rabbi Penn announced the program to the lower school, there was a surge of excitement, and there were many kindness scratch-off cards hanging up by the end of the day. Students were eager to be a part of it.

Morah Shor continued, “At this point, with the Sefirah charts hanging in the hallways and the kindness scratch-off cards being added daily, students are excited to keep adding cards to the charts!”

Before Pesach, the school sent home a Sefirat HaOmer chart that included each night’s Omer count and a suggested act of kindness for that day. In the lower school Judaic studies classrooms, when introducing Sefirat HaOmer, teachers explained the idea to focus on doing at least one act of kindness a day, to counteract the disrespect Rabbi Akiva’s students had for each other. The charts are hanging in each grade’s hallway as a reminder to do kindness and the scratch-off cards with their name and class display the acts of kindness they did.

Dr. Aliza Frohlich summed up, “At Yavneh we want to relay that being a mensch and a caring, considerate person is even more important than the academic skills they will gain here. The ‘Kindness Counts’ program was one other way to stress this value… and was also the vision of our parents, as we partnered to bring this program to life.”

Yavneh Academy weaves this value throughout the curriculum, in Judaic and general studies and through other programming as well, said Frohlich. “Another key to the success of the program was involving our students in the planning. The ‘Kindness Counts’ program was truly a parent-teacher-student initiative! Most importantly, our students know that kindness does not only count during Sefirah, but counts every single day of the year.”

By Ellie Wolf