The Most Accomplished Student

Written by Paul J. Blank on . Posted in Travel

As a teacher at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (CESJDS), I am always in awe of the impressive professions that former students have entered. There are accomplished university professors, successful entrepreneurs, skilled surgeons, and prominent rabbis, to name just a few. In my opinion, however, there is one student who attained a profession that surpasses all the others. I think of her often, particularly during the holiday of Chanukah.

One winter break, I decided to go to Club Med in Cancun, Mexico. For those who are unfamiliar, Club Med is a unique holiday resort in which all food, activities, and entertainment are included. Guests are given strings of beads to use in exchange for drinks. There are no clocks, no locks on doors, no televisions, and no cars. Many times a day, for no apparent reason, the Club Med dance, “Les Crazy Signs,” has everybody throwing up their hands in unison. Some Club Med vacations are family-oriented; however, the adults-only or singles vacations have, to be sure, a hedonistic vibe.

Guests, or Gentils Membres (GMs), live in villages presided over by charismatic hosts known as Chefs de Village. However, the GMs mostly interact with the tanned and smiling Club Med staff, known as the Gentils Organisateurs (GOs), who involve everyone in sports and games and provide the evening entertainment. GOs live in the villages alongside the GMs, even sharing the same buffets. The GOs are interesting, smart, personable, athletic, and talented people. It is a much-sought-
after position; undoubtedly, few are able to meet the criteria.

The year I went to Club Med, winter break overlapped with the last days of Chanukah. I packed a tin menorah in my suitcase, expecting to light it alone in my room. However, upon arriving, there was a big sign that announced “Candle Lighting for Chanukah Outside the Main Dining Room.” That evening, I attended the event and was shocked to find that at least half of the village was in attendance! I thought that perhaps most of the people were there because they were just curious, but when song sheets in Hebrew were passed out, and many people sang along, it was clear that many of the GMs were, in fact, “members of the tribe.”

The program was led by one of the GOs. She led the sing-along, the lighting of the candles, and even gave a short dvar Torah. I was rather in awe of the GO, who was not only interesting, smart, personable, athletic, and talented, but also, evidently, well-versed in Judaism.

Afterward, I felt compelled to speak to her and express my admiration. I began by thanking her for leading the service and told her how appreciative I was that I didn’t need to light candles alone in my room. I also told her how impressed I was with her Judaic knowledge and asked where she had received her education.

“I went to a Jewish Day School until the 8th grade,” she answered. When I asked her which day school, she replied: “You probably never heard of it; it’s a small school in Rockville, Maryland. It’s called the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School!”

I, of course, was flabbergasted, but I have also never prouder to be a teacher at CESJDS. Sure, some of our students have become university professors, entrepreneurs, surgeons, rabbis, and more. I also have no doubt that, in the future, there will be CESJDS students who will become astronauts, professional athletes, and Nobel Prize winners. But, to appropriate the teaching in Pirkei Avot 2:12: If all the students who attended JDS were in one scale of the balance, but the student who attended JDS and became a GO at Club Med was in the other scale of the balance, she would surpass them all. For me, it was nothing short of a Chanukah miracle.

My best wishes for a Chag Orim Sameach.

By Paul J. Blank

 Paul J. Blank is a teacher at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. Send comments or questions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .