As head of school, shepn nachas from our students and faculty, much in the way parents and grandparents do from their children, and grandchildren, is something I do on a daily basis. And if you’re not familiar with the term, read on.
Here are a few examples I wanted to share with you, so that you, too, can shep nachas from our school:
Aaron Newman, our ECC4-Grade 3 science teacher, shares a D’var Torah with his classes on Fridays in advance of Shabbat. One student, Harry, always likes to share this bit of Torah with his family around the Shabbat table on Friday nights. Recently, Harry was absent on a Friday. So Mr. Newman wrote out his D’var Torah, and sent it to Harry’s dad. This is just one example of our teachers going above and beyond. That’s a shepn nachas moment.
Jacob, one of our eighth graders, barely knew what a 3-D printer was two years ago. Now, he has dismantled and rebuilt our first 3-D printer so that it prints multiple objects without human oversight. Jacob is prototyping a mechanism by which one can monitor remotely the progress of the printer. Jacob will present this project at the 2016 Tech Talk Conference for K-12 educators in the region. That’s another shepn nachas moment.
I am also shepn nachas from David Venning, our eighth grade math teacher, and his students, who are presenting design ideas for a ramp for a local family whose relative has a physical disability, and requires a ramp to the front door when he next visits Detroit. The project not only authentically teaches a math unit on slopes with real world application, but also involves the 4 cs we teach at Hillel – collaboration, critical thinking, communication and creativity. Teams of students will present their ideas not only to the family but to our FNI architects who are renovating our school. Should the family choose one of Hillel’s student proposals, the family hopes to fund construction of the ramp for use at their home.
A particularly sacred moment of shepn nachas came to me this week, when I observed our seventh graders enjoying an evening of bingo and refreshments with the JARC residents with whom they are spending the year. You can see the hand of God in their interactions. JARC residents teach our children patience, respect, tolerance, and compassion, and in return, our children show great respect and affection for their new friends, and interact with them with ease and friendship.
When you learned about natural disasters in schools, you most likely learned about them in text books and worksheets. At Hillel, our sixth grade science students are experiencing natural disasters by actually making them happen! In the maker space, our students crafted volcanoes over varying topographies to see the impact of volcanic eruptions, and mudflows from lahars, and to test evacuation patterns. To help our students understand tsunamis, students are designing sea floor features that can limit the damage along the shore line during a tsunami, which they will simulate using a wave tank built by Trevett Allen, our Director of Innovation. As part of a design challenge, students will also build a structure to see if it can survive an earthquake on the earthquake table that was designed in our maker space last year. These hands-on approaches to learning make concepts come to life, help student understanding, and enable students to improve upon solutions to existing real-world challenges.
So, where does the phrase “shepn nachas” come from? Philologos, who writes in the Forward, makes an interesting connection between the early use of the phrase, in Hebrew, in Kohelet 4:6, and the Yiddish expression to “shep nachas.”
“Yiddish nakhes comes from Hebrew nahat [נחת], “tranquility” or “contentment,” words with only a few biblical occurrences. One of these is in the verse in Ecclesiastes, Tov m’lo khaf nahat mim’lo hofnayim amal u’re’ut ru’ah. [טוֹב מְלֹא כַף נָחַת מִמְּלֹא חָפְנַיִם עָמָל וּרְעוּת רוּחַ]. “Better a handful of tranquility [nahat] than two hands full of toil and vexation” — or, to paraphrase it in contemporary English, “Better to relax and enjoy life than always to strive and be frustrated,” he writes.
The image of a “handful” and “two hands full” on which this verse is based suggests the act of reaching into something — a sack of wheat, a pot of food, a bucket of water or whatever — and scooping up, or trying to scoop up, its contents. It’s wiser, the Torah tells us, to scoop up less and get pleasure from it than to scoop up more and have to struggle to keep it.
At Hillel, we have much to scoop up and enjoy. Let us be humble and moderate in the face of our students’ accomplishments, but nonetheless, let us continue to “shep nachas” from our community, and may our children be a source of joy to us for many years to come.