New after school programs for middle school students

TikkunXDesign is now available to 5th grade and middle school students in the community as an after school program. 

Our TikkunXDesign after school program kicks off on October 9th. Tiferet Rose, TikkunXDesign Director, and JCDSRI TikkunXDesign Fellows from Brown University will facilitate the weekly lessons in our Design Lab that explore Jewish values through Design Thinking. See flyer for details.


Teva PVD

Alumni often tell us that their 5th grade Teva overnight was a highlight of their JCDSRI experience. We are now bringing the magic of Teva to Providence!

Teva PVD is a 3-part series of outdoor explorations culminating in an overnight Shabbaton. Teva PVD outdoor adventures will be facilitated by Teva and JCDSRI educators. For dates and details, see flyer.

The Founding of JCDSRI

It all started forty years ago at the Providence home of Sheila and Paul Alexander.  While their kids played upstairs, the Alexanders hashed out a bold idea with three other couples with preschoolers: Rabbi Alvan and Marcia Kaunfer, Joshua and Penney Stein, and Chuck and Ada Beth Cutler.  They wanted a Jewish day school education, but something more liberal and egalitarian than that offered by the Providence Hebrew Day School.

The four couples were recent transplants to Providence, and had experience with the Conservative movement’s Schechter schools that were sprouting up across the country.  As public school graduates, they wanted their children to have a stronger Jewish foundation than they had, or that was possible with afterschool religious education at a synagogue. So they started thinking about opening their own Schechter school. It was already March of 1978, but they aimed for the fall.

As Penney Stein recalled, “We were young and crazy enough to think we could pull it off.”  It helped that Alvan Kaunfer, the assistant rabbi at Temple Emanu-El, had been head of the Judaic studies department at Toronto’s Schechter school. Ada Beth Cutler had started her teaching career at a New York Schechter, and Penney Stein herself was an educator with a Ph.D.

These young families got crucial support from two leaders at Emanu-El, Joel Zaiman, the senior rabbi, and longtime trustee Sanford Kroll.  They had pushed for a Schechter school years before, but hadn’t been able to persuade parents to sign on.  This time, with parents taking the lead, it worked.

The founders informed president Marvin Holland and the board of the Jewish Federation (now Jewish Alliance) of their plans, but made no request for funding.  They did gain some vital philanthropic help and advice from Emanu-El trustees Max Alperin and Benton Odessa.

The parents met some resistance from those who worried that the community couldn’t support two day schools.  After all, Providence Hebrew Day School, while always Orthodox, had been the original community school when it started 30 years earlier.  Among its founders were the senior rabbis from Emanu-El (Conservative) and Temple Beth-El (Reform).  Emanu-El had even temporarily housed the school when it moved from its original downtown location to its present building at Elmgrove and Savoy.

A big step was asking Emanu-El’s board for a classroom, which the trustees granted for a token rental fee.  As for the legal details, Dan Kaplan, an Emanu-El congregant and lawyer, volunteered to handle the paperwork.  The Providence School Department required only minor renovations to the space, as well as a written curriculum, before allowing the school to open in September.

The Conservative Jewish Day School of Rhode Island started small, with just a half-day kindergarten class the first year.  By the end of the first year, the school formally affiliated with the Schechter movement and gained a start-up grant, leading to a new name, the Solomon Schechter Day School of Rhode Island.  Every year it added a grade as the original class moved ahead.

Ada Beth Cutler was the first teacher, and Rabbi Kaunfer served as an unpaid director on the side.  He would go on to serve for many years as the director, now paid, as did Penney Stein after him.  Marcia Kaunfer taught at the school for decades, and even in retirement continues to mentor teachers.  Sheila Alexander was president for several years, as well as a long-serving trustee.

Alexander remembers the founders all spent long hours meeting with prospective parents, describing the school and why they wanted it for their own kids.  Eventually the school demonstrated its staying power, while Providence Hebrew Day School was also thriving.  Now the community offered a choice, and some longtime supporters of Hebrew Day, such as Arthur Robbins, eventually came around to support the new school, too.  Over time, the Jewish Alliance also helped in various ways.

The first class of 10 kids came mostly from Emanu-El families, but the founders remember at least one from Beth-El.  They never considered making it the non-denominational community school, simply because they had no model or concept to draw on.  But by 2006 the concept was far along, and the school re-shaped itself as the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island.

Now beginning its 40th school year, the school is planning a gala celebration on the evening of April 7, 2019, as well as some smaller gatherings.

This article was written by John Landry and appeared in the September 21st edition of the Voice and Herald.
John lives in Providence and is the father of two alumni of JCDS.

Looking for TikkunXDesign Fellow and a Garden Fellow for 2018-19

We are currently seeking a TikkunXDesign Fellow and a Garden Fellow. Both part-time positions are under the supervision of our school’s TikkunXDesign Director, Tiferet Rose.  Please click on the job descriptions below for more information. Send Resume and cover letter to trose@jcdsri.com by July 1st.

TikkunXDesign Fellows job Descriptions 2018

March is Read-With-Me month

March is Read-With-Me month! Ms. Silva, our dedicated 4th grade teacher and school librarian, has organized JCDSRI’s first annual Read-With-Me month! Our goal during the month of March is to demonstrate for students that reading and learning is a lifelong adventure. From March 1st until the 28th, we will welcome readers of all ages to join our community and share their favorite books with us. We are thrilled that among our many guests will be local politicians, business leaders, alumni, student athletes, family members and friends of our school.



Purim at JCDSRI is a festive and busy day!

Our school-wide Purim celebration was filled with costume parades, games, hamantaschen baking and more! Leading up to Purim, students studied the holiday story from Megillat Esther (the Scroll of Esther) and each class decorated its door with a scene from the story. Students filmed themselves acting out the scene from their classroom door. On Purim, children visited each other’s classes and upon entering were treated to the student-made videos that brought the Purim story to life.

Older students chanted from the Book of Esther for the whole community. In the afternoon, we assembled bags with toiletries for people in need and everyone exchanged Mishloach Manot, goody-filled bags, to complete the celebration!





Partners in Peace

Our fifth grade class is once again participating in Partners in Peace, an innovative learning program co-created 3 years ago by JCDSRI and the Islamic School of Rhode Island. Throughout the spring our students and the ISRI fifth graders will join together for weekly learning grounded in the shared value of Tzedakah / Sadaqah and Zakah — charity and service.

This year, our program has expanded (and deepened) with a new partnership with BRIJ — Building Relationships: Islam and Judaism — a new initiative at Brown University committed to Muslim-Jewish collaboration on campus and across Providence. BRIJ facilitators have created an interactive curriculum that lays the foundation for direct action as we work together — college students, fifth graders and their families — to support local organizations in Providence. For more information, please visit the BRIJ website.

Preschool Music and Rhythm!

Join us for a musical morning designed specifically for 3 – 5 year olds. We’ll create a musical craft, enjoy a drumming circle with our amazing music teacher, Mike Murdock, and more! It’s a wonderful way to learn about JCDSRI while enjoying a music-filled morning. All are welcome!

Sunday, February 4, 2018
10:30am – 11:30am
RSVP requested but not required: nstein@JCDSRI.com

Preschool Hanukkah Hoopla!

Join us for our Hanukkah Hoopla on Sunday, December 10 from 10:30 – 11:30 am. Our festive celebration is designed specifically for 3 – 5 year olds and will include hands-on activities and crafts, music, holiday treats and more! Activities are facilitated by our fabulous teachers. All are welcome!

Introducing TikkunXDesign

What is TikkunXDesign? TikkunXDesign explores the interplay between Jewish values, the 21st Century skills of Design Thinking, and the subjects of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math). The concept of tikkun olam stems from the Jewish obligation that we engage in “repairing the world.” We know that despite the challenges before us, we have the resources, support, desire, and duty to work on making the world a better place.

Our goal is that the design projects we do through TikkunXDesign be purpose driven and reflect the values of our school. While tinkering is always fun, we don’t want to teach our students to simply create more “stuff” to be put in the world. That’s why we emphasize “process” at JCDSRI — particularly the skills of design thinking — which focus on building our capacities and capabilities to solve real-world problems.

This unique program, dubbed TikkunXDesign, plays a vital role in our students’ learning and will continue to shape our school’s culture as we welcome Tiferet Rose, who joined our faculty this year to direct and expand our TikkunXDesign program.

Tiferet says she is honored to be the new TikkunXDesign (Design Lab) teacher, to be working with an amazing staff, as well as to be learning with – and from – such wonderful, curious children! Tiferet has a MS in Science Education and an MPS in Environmental Interpretation, has experience in both formal and informal education, is excited to expand her knowledge base and experience into teaching Design Thinking.


Emphasizing process over product: This fall, TikkunXDesign classes will focus on developing the five healthy mindsets of Design Thinking: Optimistic, Collaborative, Empathetic, Visceral, and Experimental. Each grade – PreK through 5th – will work on one major project throughout the year, delving deeply into our challenge, learning as much as we can about it, and then generating ideas, experimenting and prototyping possible solutions.

So far we are off to a wonderful start!

Creating a Loving Community of Learners

A few weeks ago, I awoke to find my inbox overflowing with emails from colleagues around the country. They were all sharing a letter, written by John Allman, the Head of Trinity School in NYC, to his families. What struck me about his letter – and the subsequent article about him in The New York Times – was not his fierce critique of cultural norms (including a troublesome focus on consumerism, an increasing sense of entitlement, and a weakening of social connections) – but his reliance on Jewish values and vocabulary in his search for a solution.

Echoing the teachings of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (a British philosopher and theologian), who in turn uses the language of generations of Jewish scholars and students, Allman described the kind of school community he seeks to build — one which sounds remarkably like the one we have at the Jewish Community Day School of RI (JCDSRI). Rejecting a transactional model in which priority is given to the exchange of fees for “educational skills and credentials,” he longs to build covenantal relationships in which “we educate our students so that they leave us with a commitment not just to advance their own educational interests, but also serve the common good and to give generously to others for the rest of their lives.”

Allman acknowledges that his vision of a “covenantal relationship” is a uniquely Jewish one. Its origins are found in the relationship between God and Israel – one that is built on a sense of obligation, interdependence, and loyalty. As Allman suggests – and we know to be true at JCDSRI – this model can serve as a paradigm for human relationships in which respect, mutuality, and compassion are foundational.

Allman’s letter – and the resulting dialogue – highlights the value of Jewish education and its capacity to inspire us to be more ethical, more empathic, and more committed to our communities. I personally feel blessed to be leading an exceptional organization in which covenantal relationships are a natural outgrowth of our school’s identity. Unlike Allman, we don’t need to search for external models for how to create a loving community; at JCDSRI we have – in Rabbi Sacks words – “a shared destiny and an acceptance of responsibility to and for one another . . . What matters is that we build something none of us could make alone.”

As JCDSRI prepares to celebrate its 40th anniversary next year, I feel grateful for all those who have helped in constructing and maintaining this exceptional community. May we continue to find value in Jewish education – in all its forms – in the years to come.