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Lees is more for KDVP’s new principal




King David Victory Park (KDVP) Primary School’s new principal, Kevin Lees, describes himself as a traditionalist in terms of teaching and learning, but also unconventional and flexible.

“If COVID-19 proved anything, it’s that we can’t simply rely on tried and tested methods of education,” he says. “It has brought some positive changes like blended learning and the use of technology.

“The flexibility it brought was also positive, as was the re-examination of key aspects of the curriculum, making us focus on the essentials. COVID-19 will be with us for some time, but I hope that when things get back to normal, we won’t ignore what worked, and lose that reflection and movement.”

Lees takes over from Rabbi Ricky Seeff, who has been appointed general director at the South African Jewish Board of Education. He may have been just a week in the job, but his commitment to the school and enthusiasm for everything education is palpable.

He was appointed in March, though he started his tenure at the beginning of October. It was a bombshell month for educators, with schools suddenly locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and teachers having to adapt overnight to online teaching. Lees saw out the storm in his former post as head of Theodor Herzl Primary in Port Elizabeth.

Lees says he believes we shouldn’t “sweat the small stuff”. He isn’t obsessed with hair length or uniforms, though he stipulates that children must be “well presented”. That was another interesting change wrought by COVID-19 – when children were allowed to go to school in civvies.

“Children should be given a level of flexibility to learn in a different way,” he says. “My previous classes were allowed to experiment with flexible seating, though admittedly it didn’t work for everyone – and sometimes, some children just need to be given a break when needed.”

It doesn’t undermine how seriously he takes the job. “Teachers aren’t merely facilitators,” he says. “We play a massive role in the lives of children. Teaching and learning must evolve. We must incorporate methods and curricula relevant to the 21st century.”

Lees has been an educator for 22 years, first at St George’s Preparatory in Port Elizabeth, followed by a stint in London, then becoming head of Theodor Herzl in 2012, where he doubled enrolment during his tenure. The career educator, who also has a degree in theology, says he felt an immediate connection with the philosophy, ethos, and approach of Theodor Herzl.

The ability to adapt and be flexible are strengths of Jewish schools, he points out, which aren’t tied up with unnecessary tradition, and have a critical-thinking culture. So, too, is an intimate connection between teacher and child, leading children to feel safe and secure. This is a particular strength of KDVP, by virtue of its size and teacher-child ratio.

Like Theodor Herzl, KDVP Primary School is small – with about 300 pupils. It allows the principal to know every pupil and parent and have an “open-door” policy, creating a sense of community, and making it easier to manage.

“We doubled enrolment at Theodor Herzl, but I wouldn’t go bigger than that,” Lees points out. Other strengths are that there is greater participation by all children in sport and the arts. “KDVP is known for its whole-school dramatic productions,” he says, “this is impossible at bigger schools.”

Though he’s not Jewish, he believes religion plays a beautiful and significant role in education. An environment like King David leads to reflection, critical thinking, and social responsibility, which is what sets our community apart. Children at King David are brought up to see themselves as part of a community, not just as individuals, and this is critically important. To this extent, he’s looking forward to working with the vibrant and closely connected Jewish community in Gauteng.

Lees is aware that he is filling big shoes in taking over from Rabbi Seeff, who was an inspiring leader and made many positive changes to the school. “Rabbi Seeff isn’t lost to the system,” he says, “we will lean on him.” But he points out that as a career educator, perhaps he brings a different lens to the job. “There is a debate among principals about the value of teachers running schools,” he says, “but if you have spent time in the classroom, it influences your perspective. Fundamentally, you must be motivated by a love for children, and be willing to listen to those around you.”

Lees is an educator and a parent – he has children who are enrolled at King David, so he is uniquely equipped to see things from both perspectives.

He has outlined four main tasks for himself in the next year. First, he wants to familiarise himself with the school, tuning into its culture, the board, and the community. He stresses that he will be careful about making changes before he has done so. He hopes to build trust and confidence among the community. Second, he will identify areas of concern by walking around and interacting with people on the ground. Third, he emphasises the continued fallout of COVID-19, ensuring the continued success of blended learning. The pandemic’s emotional impact on children is still to be felt, and he aims to address this too. Fourth, Lees is prioritising the building of partnerships and networks – educational and in the Jewish community – in Gauteng, where the community is particularly vibrant.

Finally, he may just learn some Hebrew. “I was cornered by a teacher at Theodor Herzl, who said she would teach me Hebrew, but I don’t have a gift for languages,” he comments. “Though, in a sense, it’s given me a sense of what the children go throug

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Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi



More than 75 devices around the globe logged in to Beit Luria’s World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Shabbat Around the World programme on Friday, 15 January.

Whether it was breakfast time in California, tea time in Europe, or time to break challah in Johannesburg, participants logged in to take part in Beit Luria’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.

Among those participating were Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the president of the WUPJ; chairperson Carole Sterling; and Rabbi Nathan Alfred, the head of international relations. Singers Tulla Eckhart and Brian Joffe performed songs from a global array of artists, along with Toto’s Africa to add a little local flair to the service. After kiddish was said and bread was broken, Rabbi Bergman thanked Beit Luria for hosting the WUPJ. The shul looks forward to more collaborations with its global friends in the future.

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UJW Sewing School graduates model creations



The outfits modelled by graduates of the Union of Jewish Women’s (UJW’s) Sewing School were all the more spectacular for the fact that some of their creators had never seen a sewing machine prior to the four-month course.

They were modelled at the school’s graduation ceremony at Oxford Shul on 15 December to much excitement and applause.

UJW executive member and Sewing School Manager Ariane Heneck expressed her gratitude to Chido Tsodzo, the school’s superb teacher, and the event ended with a much appreciated lunch for graduates and their invited guests.

The self-empowerment Sewing School for unemployed men and women was started by the UJW 10 years ago. It now has a small production team of ex-students, and some of its graduates have been employed in factories, while others are selling their own creations.

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Israel Rugby 7s to camp with the Blitzbokke



The thrill-a-minute Rugby 7s have captured the hearts of fans around the world. The Blitzbokke, South Africa’s national Rugby 7s team, ranks second in the world, and is among the most exciting, formidable, and feared of 7s teams.

Exactly 9 191 km away are the Israelis, an emerging rugby nation that has talent, determination, and a world-class coach in South African Kevin Musikanth. Now, these two squads will meet. The Israeli 7s side will be travelling to the SAS Rugby Academy in Stellenbosch to train with the Blitzbokke.

The Blitzbokke will have the opportunity to prepare for the coming 7s rugby season by measuring their skills of play against the Israelis. And the Israelis, well, they will be rubbing shoulders with, and learning from the best in the world and honing their skills for their coming European Rugby season.

“It’s an opportunity for our boys to learn from the world’s best,” says Musikanth. The SAS Rugby Academy is run by the legendary Frankie Horn, a technical expert whose coaching guidelines and methods are second to none in World Rugby 7s.

Musikanth took over as Rugby 15s head coach in Israel in 2018, and in October 2019, he became director of rugby for the Israeli Rugby Union and head coach for the national programmes of both the 15s and the 7s.

Horn visited Israel last December at the behest of Rugby Israel and its supporting Olympic body and since then, the partnership has continued to grow. The upcoming training camp will begin in Israel, where Horn, together with Phil Snyman, the former Blitzbok captain and multiple world champion winner, will spend a week with the players and coaching staff at Wingate, Netanya, the home base of Rugby Israel. They will then all travel to Stellenbosch for a week’s camp with the Blitzbokke.

“We’ve already seen the difference through our partnership with Frankie. Two of our players were spotted by him on his previous trip to Israel, and have been training at SAS on the off-season,” says Musikanth. The two players are Omer Levinson (scrum half) and Yotam Shulman (lock).

Horn, technical advisor to Rugby Israel’s 7s, says “It is a great opportunity for both teams to derive positive benefit from the camp.”

Israel Rugby has been making considerable professional strides since Musikanth took over the reins. Israel 15s played their 100th test match against Cyprus and celebrated with a 34-22 victory.

“We’re in the top 25 in Europe in 15s and in the top 16 in 7s, the toughest, most competitive continent in world rugby,” says Musikanth, “and I can realistically see us setting our sights on the Top 15 and Top 12 respectively in the future.”

Currently, there are three eligible South Africans who are on the Israeli national squad: Jayson Ferera as flanker (Pirates Rugby Club), Daniel Stein as fly half (studying in Israel), and Jared Sichel as prop (Hamilton’s Rugby Club, Cape Town). Eligibility to play for a national team in rugby is stricter than in other sports. One does not qualify just because one has a passport. One has to have had a parent or grandparent that was born in that country or one has to have lived in the country for at least three years.

“With so much Jewish rugby talent around the world, we would be able to put a world-class Israeli national team together if not for the measures that restrict eligibility to national call ups,” says Musikanth.

The Israel Rugby development project was accelerated thanks to Musikanth initiating Bridges through Rugby. This project is the collective effort of a few South African Jewish businessmen who appreciate the long-term vision of Israel becoming a stronger rugby nation. They have come on board to assist with this most opportune tour. National financial support is fixed and, as such, is limited. While the strong players and national coaches will be attending the training camp in Stellenbosch, there will be some that will, unfortunately, have to stay behind.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players and coaches. To get to see the best upfront and feed off their knowledge is going to be incredible,” says Musikanth. “Everyone is eager to go, of course, but there is a cap to the support we have in place. We would like to take a development u20 squad as well as coaching staff who would carry the benefits of this into the future. A rugby visit to Stellenbosch can change rugby lives in many respects. Stellenbosch is rugby utopia!”

Rugby aside, with the Israelis and South Africans camping together, the question of what will be for dinner after a gruelling day’s training may be a matter of contention. A tussle for whether to serve boerewors or shwarma may result in a scrum in the SAS dining hall to determine the outcome.

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