Well, that’s another busy Counterpoint season wrapped up. This week, we concluded the 2020 Counterpoint experience with our Year 8 students being initiated into the Counterpoint routine. Despite the challenges of not having a team of international madrichim and not being able to utilise our regular overnight campsite this year, we were still able to provide all students from Year 8 to Year 12 with a very enjoyable, engaging, emotional and educational experience.
This year, we added the phrase ‘Count the Day’ to the Counterpoint title. This served to remind the students of a very important life lesson that we all need reminding of sometimes – that is, to make the most of each and very minute, hour and day. We always begin blowing the shofar during the month of Counterpoint. However, I think there was something a little more meaningful that registered as we blew it this year. The piercing sound of the shofar reminded us that we only had a very limited amount of time to provide the best possible Counterpoint experience we could, and that is exactly what we set out to do.
This year, we had more than 50 young, talented, passionate and motivated madrichim who facilitated, guided and taught our students throughout the various Counterpoint programs. They led our students in discussion and debate and, in the process, developed relationships with them which will continue. We are fortunate that our madrichim are local and are therefore available (and very willing) to coordinate various follow-up events, which will only create a stronger kesher (connection) with our students. Even more gratifying than having such a large pool of local madrichim willing to invest in our students, is the fact that the vast majority of them are Moriah alumni. When asked why they were so willing to give of themselves, their response was unanimous. Their own personal Counterpoint experience was so awe-inspiring, they too wanted to be a part of transmitting that same inspiration to other students.
It was way back in 1974 when Counterpoint was first introduced to Moriah, the aim of which was to reinforce within our students a stronger Jewish identity. While over the years, Counterpoint has evolved and developed into an entirely different experience for our students (especially in 2020), the core aim of the Counterpoint program remains the same. Every program is age and stage appropriate and developed specifically with our students in mind by our very own experiential department.
The Counterpoint programs do not solely revolve around Jewish custom and law. Most of the programs focus on specific life lessons and encourage the students to engage in discussion about themes and concepts that will influence their own lives, if not now then at some stage in the near future. The focus of Year 8 Counterpoint was the importance of conversation. Students were introduced to the importance of dialogue and open communication. Like all the programs, these are conducted in small groups facilitated by a madrich or madricha. Students are encouraged to participate in the discussion without fear of being frowned upon by a larger group. These intimate group settings also foster a close relationship between the students and their madrichim.
The Year 9 Counterpoint program focused on the students’ understanding of happiness and getting to know their true self. Children often make decisions based on social pressure rather than through a process of critical thinking and questioning. During Counterpoint, students were encouraged to think about being true to themselves, which will allow them to achieve a greater sense of happiness and create a stronger sense of self-identity. The better we know and understand ourselves, the more competent we become in making good decisions. In making good decisions, not only are we happier, we cause others to be happier as well.
Students defined what makes them happy and explored various ways to improve happiness. It is not so much about the various challenges we face; it is about how we react and respond to such challenges that will determine our happiness. Students also spent time discussing the benefits of adopting an attitude of gratitude and referred to numerous Jewish sources that emphasise the role gratitude plays in developing our sense of appreciation.
Year 10 is an important year as students transition from the junior High School years to the senior years. Students are thinking about responsibility and maturity and these become crucial themes as they consider their own independence. Year 10 students were able to develop these themes over a two-day Counterpoint program. The first day focused on taking action both on a macro and micro level and the second day revolved around the theme of appreciating relationships. The very first activity encouraged students to think about being upstanders as opposed to bystanders. Through discussion, analysis of short powerful video clips and guided questions, students were able to express their views on the importance of stepping up rather than standing by when others are being unfairly dealt with.
One of the highlights of Year 10 Counterpoint (obviously the whole Counterpoint was a highlight) was a program called Entebbe during which the students engaged in authentic Jewish learning for over an hour based on the Entebbe hijacking in 1976. Students analysed various Jewish sources which highlighted the relevance of halachah (Jewish Law) and the process which is followed in order to reach a verdict. Ultimately, the students gained a real sense of appreciation for the mitzvah of kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, that each and every one of us are responsible for one another.
Year 11 Counterpoint is often regarded as the climax of their Counterpoint experience and, like Year 10, they were treated to two days of stimulating discussion, conversation and debate. The Year 11 program focused on the students making informed decisions about themselves as they begin to consider their future. Students were encouraged to think about questioning values, both their own as well as the values defined by society and those determined by our own tradition. They considered the impact of being biased and how this influences the decisions we make and the relationships we invest in. Students also examined the keys to establishing healthy relationships built on Jewish values. The catchphrase ‘everything you will ever be, you are becoming right now’ accurately reflected the overarching themes of Year 11 Counterpoint.
Finally, Year 12 Counterpoint focused on the theme of reflection as the students had the opportunity to reflect on their own personal journey – the values they hold dear, the connections they have made and their future aspirations. These were all discussed as part of the various programs. Students were asked to think about their own Moriah journeys and challenged to consider the rest of their journey once they graduate in just a few weeks. The day concluded with a program asking the students to appreciate and acknowledge that every one of us has something valuable to contribute and that in some way, we are all valuable and deserve to be respected and appreciated.
Our 2020 Counterpoint experience included all the trimmings. Students were treated to hot chocolate and marshmallows as they arrived each morning (our Year 12’s received special treatment with a cup of the famous Oakberry Acai). Delicious catered meals were served every day with plenty of snacks in between. We even managed to secure a Counterpoint band that played music and encouraged great ruach (spirit), which we still managed to achieve without any dancing. While we look forward to a restriction-free Counterpoint program in 2021, we are confident (and proud) that we were able to provide our students with an unforgettable Counterpoint experience in 2020.
About the author
Ronnen Grauman is the Acting Head of Jewish Life and Learning at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.