Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Viewpoint: The Jewish Academy is a jewel in our midst


I have been a part of the greater Orlando Jewish community for 31 years. Over those years, I have served our many community organizations in many capacities, both as a lay leader and professional. As an educator, mother and Jew, I have always had a particular affinity for the Jewish Academy of Orlando, formerly the Hebrew Day School. And in my continued support of the school, I have returned to a board position, in spite of my empty nest status.

Recently, I have had the opportunity to be in school for some volunteering and I was so moved by what is going on there. Under the leadership of Alan Rusonik, head of school, there is a renewed dedication to Jewish learning and values. From a first grader I did not know, who stopped me in the hall, noticing a boot on my foot for a broken bone, and wished me a speedy recovery, to the third graders working with a special young adult employee from the RAISE program in the art room, I saw caring children everywhere I went. I felt so excited by the energy and spirit of Monday morning services led by Rusonik. All of the children sang prayers with joyous melodies, engaged in Mr. Rusonik’s d’var Torah, and helped lead the services.

Additionally, there has been a movement to celebrate holidays together, both Jewish and secular. Students and staff attended services for the second day of Sukkot at Temple Israel, and Simchat Torah at Ohev Shalom. The students had such an enriched holiday experience. And, the community response was overwhelmingly positive, as having 80 children be a part of holiday services added renewed joy to the beautiful holiday observance. When it came to MLK day, students came to school to have a groundbreaking ceremony for a Community Kindness Garden, and spent the rest of the day participating in age-appropriate service projects, both on and off of the campus. The infusion of Jewish values into almost every aspect of daily learning is what sets the Jewish Academy apart from all other schools in the Orlando area.

The value of the Jewish Academy often gets overlooked as an answer to the complicated, stressful and often cruel world our children face every day. It is a place where we can give our children the ever-important tools they need to be successful in life, both academically and emotionally. I can’t think of a more important start to a child’s long academic life than an educational environment that fosters creativity and curiosity while infusing their daily lives with the incredible joys of being Jewish.

This is why I continue to be an active leader and donor to the Jewish Academy. I urge more community members to come take a tour of the school and see what’s going on. You won’t be disappointed!

Lisa Sholk lives in Longwood.


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