Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Three Reasons Why This is One of the Best Years Ever

The 2020-2021 school year, which we approached with a lot of uncertainty and a degree of trepidation, has so far proven to be one of the best years ever. Parents and teachers alike have said numerous times that there's something special about this year. While we truly missed helping the children prepare food to share with their families at our annual Thanksgiving feast, and we've missed gathering as a whole school every week for Shabbat, there have been benefits to this school year that few of us were expecting.
We've slowed down.
Ask any teacher what they wish for most and I guarantee the majority will answer "time." Teachers never have enough time. 

This year, because we're cohorting, the same two teachers stay with the same small group of children all day long. In a more typical year, a child who is in school from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm might engage with ten different teachers and 20 different children in three different classroom spaces. Thanks to cohorting, the classes this year are more cohesive, and there are hours more opportunities every single day for the teachers and children to learn together. There are far fewer transitions during the day which creates a calmer atmosphere and allows everyone the time to really focus on the tasks at hand. Classes eat when they're hungry and nap when they're tired. Routines are more natural. Everyone feels at home.

We play outside all the time.
All. The. Time.

You might find us planting a garden. Or swinging from the "climbing tree." Or exploring the "fairy garden" behind the parking lot or the "field" by the rabbi's house or the "woods" across the street. Classes take walks around the block, even when it's pouring rain, and jump in every puddle they find. They identify letters and numbers on license plates. They wave at firefighters driving down the street. They look for butterflies and bees in our neighbor's natural habitat garden. The go swimming in giant piles of leaves and find bugs in the dirt and poke at funny looking fungi that grow out of tree stumps. All the while their bodies and minds are being challenged by these experiences. They're growing and learning in ways they simply can't inside a building.

These spaces and these opportunities were always there, but it wasn't until we were compelled by necessity to spend more time outside that we realized what we'd been missing out on all along.

Our community has grown stronger.
There is a palpable element of trust and respect between the families and the school this year. The parents are grateful that we've reopened, and the teachers are grateful to be back at work. The children are grateful to be with their friends. We've all taken our commitment to each other's health and safety very seriously. Our communication is open, honest, and frequent. We know how lucky we are because not all schools have re-opened and not all school re-openings have been so successful. We know it is not a cliche to say that we're all in this b'yachad, together. 

Friday, December 4, 2020

The Potential for Light

Everyone knows the story of Chanukah:

The Macabees, a family of Jewish freedom fighters, won a war against Israel's occupiers, the Syrian-Greeks. The Jews reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem, which had been desecrated. They set out to make it holy again, and so they looked for oil to light the menorah. But they found only enough oil to last one night. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, which is why, to celebrate Chanukah (which means dedication), we light candles and eat food fried in oil for eight nights.

So, we’re commanded to light the candles, but how? Two of the greatest sages of all time, Hillel and Shammai, debated the proper way to light the Chanukah menorah, or chanukiah.

Shammai believed you should begin with the “days remaining,” meaning you start with eight candles. Each night you light one fewer candle. In this way, the light decreases.

Hillel believed you should begin with the “days completed,” meaning you start with one candle and add one each night, thereby increasing the light each day.

Hillel, whose opinion we follow, realized you should celebrate the potential of the commandment and the potential for light. Each night you light candles, you realize not only how many days you’ve celebrated, but how many days you still have to celebrate. The light never diminishes, it only increases, becoming more beautiful each night. As the light grows, so does your joy in the miracle. 

It's important sometimes to take a moment to reflect not just on what's to come, but on what's been achieved. This is especially true when those big life transitions are right around the corner. So, each night before we light the candles this year, we should pause, think about and take joy in our past accomplishments, and then imagine what the future may bring.

Shabbat Bags and the Family Prayer

"More than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews."  -- Ahad Ha'am Over the past few weeks, our friend...