Kid power

On the morning of Monday, May 10, Jewish children from the area’s day schools got to school and then boarded buses to San Jose. But it was no ordinary field trip.

Held the day after Lag B’Omer on the athletic field shared by San Jose’s Kehillah Jewish High School and Yavneh Day School, the event brought together more than 1,000 third- through eighth-graders for the first time from eight Jewish day schools throughout the Bay Area.

With some kids traveling more than 60 miles to meet their peers from other schools, the event was designed to give them a sense of being part of a greater community, while enjoying Frisbee, burlap bag races and ball games.

“The day schools in the Bay Area are so geographically diverse, that they don’t even compete with each other,” said Linda Kalinowski, chair of the local Jewish Day School Funders’ Consortium, as well as a past president of Brandeis Hillel Day School. “The kids don’t have a sense they are in a school that is part of a bigger whole.”

Students came dressed in brightly colored T-shirts, with “Lag B’Omer ’04,” in colors identifying them by grade.

Assisted by Kehillah high school volunteers, the kids represented the diversity that is the Bay Area Jewish community. Some girls wore long denim skirts and tennis shoes, while others sported less-modest shorts, with ponytails dangling under their kippot. Among the boys, though, baseball caps were the favored head covering, with a disproportionate number of New York Yankees fans among the group from Brandeis Hillel Day School in Marin. A few boys had tzitzit hanging over their shorts.

In addition to Yavneh and Brandeis Hillel’s Marin and San Francisco campuses, the students came from Contra Costa Jewish Day School in Lafayette, Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto, Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City, South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in Sunnyvale and Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito.

After an opening ceremony, which included the requisite Lag B’Omer bonfire, children broke into smaller groups and spent most of the morning engaged in sports and games.

Among the less-active games was human bingo, in which children ask each other questions about themselves, and two truths and a lie, in which players tell the group three things about themselves, and the others have to guess which one is false.

Robert Read, a seventh-grader at the Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School, shared these biographical tidbits: “On Wacky Day, I dressed up like tuna casserole. When I was 4, I peed on the VCR” and “I like to play the piano on Mondays.”

In a post-game interview, Read said he was disappointed with the day because “there was no zest to the sports, and there was no competition.” He would have been happier with real sports, like basketball, soccer or samurai fighting, he said.

Depending on which student you spoke to, you could hear both complaint and praise of the day’s events.

Several agreed that the day was indeed a success, but with a caveat. “The only reason it’s fun is because we get to ditch school,” said Daniel Creankshaw, another Gideon Hausner seventh-grader.

However, another classmate Avi Maier said it was “fun meeting kids from all the schools,” and Aaron Bressler said with the “huge history report and a huge presentation I have to do, it was a nice break.”

When asked during the lunch break whether she was having fun, Julie Herbstman, a sixth-grader at Brandeis Hillel Marin’s campus, responded, “The truth? Not really.”

She continued, “The day had good intentions, and it was a good idea, but there were too many kids and they didn’t introduce anyone.”

But another classmate, Sarah Berkov, disagreed. “People were really friendly,” she said. “You never think there are so many Jewish kids.”

Rabbi Henry Shreibman, who estimated that 1,200 attended, emphasized repeatedly that they were 1,200 saying the Sh’ma together, 1,200 saying the HaMotzi, 1,200 saying the Birkat HaMazon.

Shreibman, the head of school at Brandeis Hillel, presided over the day’s activities, alternating between the Jewish communal professional he is and an entertainer at a child’s birthday party. More than once, he referred to the children as the future leaders of the Jewish community, but then when trying to assemble them for a group photograph, he ordered the masses to “come toward the bald head,” while taking off his baseball cap. Later, he almost broke into a rap.

“This shows that the day schools are not just independent, but a movement from K through 12, creating the next generation of Jewish leaders,” Shreibman said.

The Jewish Day School Funders’ Consortium, which organized the event, was founded by a number of Bay Area philanthropists to raise awareness about the importance of a Jewish day-school education. Kalinowski and others spent a year and a half planning the May 9 event.

And if before Monday, the kids didn’t realize they were part of something bigger, they figured it out then.

“They are intelligent, creative, and physically fit,” concluded Shreibman.

The physically fit part was evident long after the games concluded, when, before boarding their bus, a group of Brandeis Hillel third-graders from Marin, calling themselves Jedi warriors, dueled on the field, transforming their Otter Pops into light sabers.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."