Celebrations: silly, serious, and everything in between

February 19, 2021

Dear Beit Rabban Community,

Happy Venahafoch Hu Day! On this day we celebrate the topsy turvy themes running through the Purim story by turning things upside down at Beit Rabban. Students dress as teachers and teachers as students. Earlier in the week we had a comfy, cozy day of reading bliss on Chagigat HaPijama, pajama day. And of course, we can't wait for Happy Hair Day this Monday. Indeed, we are in Chodesh Adar celebration mode, taking every opportunity to prepare for Purim by embracing the wacky.

In the midst of these celebrations, we also came together for a different sort of meaningful community celebration. Last night, Nitzanim (fifth grade), welcomed their families to our annual Heritage Fair, a virtual museum exhibit and celebration. As always, it was a very emotional evening of bonding: connecting back through our family histories and connecting across families. The essential question of fifth grade is "who am I and where did I come from?" In the context of this essential question, students study evolution, human reproduction and their own family histories. Preparing for the Heritage Fair leads students on a winding exploration of their family story through the study of one particular artifact and then offers them the opportunity to share their stories and learn those of their classmates. It provides the sort of personal and communal anchoring that is inherent in our tradition and essential to a sense of belonging, especially now. Our wonderful principal, Ingrid Goldfein, opened the evening with the following welcome message. It begins with a "Where I'm From" poem in the style of the poems written by each of our Nitzanim students as part of their museum exhibits... enjoy...

I am from cake tins, 
From Talenti Cold brew Coffee Sorbet and Netflix
I am from the Shul owned home 
Welcoming, normally filled with guests,but not during Covid
I am from hydrangeas, deep purple and blue
I’m from sharing what happened in your day and interrupting
From Nana and Pops 
From “Go to your room!’ and “Jennifer, Peter, Ingrid - whoever you are”
I’m from Shabbat and going to shul
I’m from Poland and Russia, Nuremberg, Germany and Brookline, MA
Kasha Varshishkas, and kreplach,
From Cousin Adrienne and her hilarious Boston accent,
The meticulously put together Grandmother from Montreal 
I am from the fading slides inside the old slide projector
Taken by my father, with his Leica camera

Welcome to the Nitzanim Family History and heritage exhibit. Tonight we celebrate the research and work of our 5th grade students who have been engaging with the essential questions, “Who am I? And how did I get here?” They began their year with a study of human evolution, they will soon be participating in a unit on human reproduction, and most recently they have been working on learning about their own unique family histories. 
I was going to address my remarks tonight to our guests - the adults, and I changed my mind and I have decided to speak directly to the students. So, grown-ups, you can listen in, but this message is for you, 5th graders.
First, I am so proud of you. You worked hard and we can’t wait to celebrate you tonight and visit your exquisite exhibits. I want to remind you that you come from a long history of Jewish tradition that values memory, and the importance of knowing your history. Every year we reread the Torah - the most sacred documentation of our people. During many of our holidays and commemorations, we retell the stories of our victories, and our tragedies, and the most obvious example of this for me, is the Passover Seder, where every year we retell the story of our exodus from Egpyt our journey from slavery to freedom, and we recite these words from Mishna Psachim "בְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלוּ הוּא יֶָָצֶָא מִמִּצְרַָים”. In every generation we are obligated to see ourselves as if we had come out of Egypt. This is so powerful because it is a call to action - we are being asked to internalize and feel this history as if we had personally experienced it. And, these words recited at the Seder Pesach have been said by Jews all over the world for about 1800 hundred years - whether in Tunisia, or Shanghai, or Poland - this tradition has been part of our people, of our history.  

Judaism does not just ask us to retell the stories of our collective history, we also have a tradition of Yizkor - the obligation to remember people who have died, and to remember events like the Holocaust. 
This event tonight is not the retelling of our collective history - it is a celebration of your personal family histories, because these stories are part of shaping the very particular identity that each of you uniquely holds. I have recently become interested in the concept of personal origin stories - the idea that people benefit from knowing the specific stories of how we came to be through the stories of the generations we are most closely connected to. I learned that there has been some fascinating research from psychologists, Robyn Fivush and Marshall Duke who concluded that children who are told the stories of their own families - who know information such as, how their parents met, and where their grandparents came from - that people who can answer these types of questions have higher self-esteem and tend to feel more control over their lives. Wow - this research that you have done for the Heritage Fair, was not only an opportunity to think like an historian, and learn interviewing, writing, presentation and artistic skills, it was actually helpful for you in your own social emotional growth (you did not even know that!). Knowing these family stories helps you to grow stronger personal identities. These stories you will share with us tonight, they are now your responsibility to keep, and tp one day tell them to your children and future generations.

Wishing all a restful, rejuvenating Shabbat. Rest up- you're going to need a lot of extra energy for Purim next week!