Read the full Ta Shma, Beit Rabban's weekly email, here.
Dear Beit Rabban Community,
There is obviously a comfort in hiding, in pulling a blanket over our heads and pretend to be invisible. We hide our mistakes, our flaws, and even our shame of these flaws and mistakes.
Then comes Yom Kippur, and we confess it all in public, likely while sitting next to the very people who are most directly affected by the things we do that embarrass us. We join these other people to sing together the litany of our transgressions. And we don’t stop there, we confess to a list of transgressions that are likely worse than what we have actually committed. This seems like the type of situation that most people would prefer to avoid, or at least do in a more private setting, but we do it every year, communally, on the very day that the most people attend services.
I suspect many of you can relate when I share than the vidduy prayer has been a painful ritual for me over the years. I am acutely aware of my flaws. In fact, I am sure that there are people carrying around hurt on my account that I am not sensitive enough to even recognize. A few years ago, I had to re-frame vidduy and Yom Kippur writ large to stop it from triggering unproductive self-disappointment and shame. The public and collective nature of this ritual began to represent the reality that we have all done wrong, protecting me against the sort of lonely embarrassment that can make a person want to hide . I have even come to experience a collective forgiveness in apologizing together, in this communal and public vidduy. There is a deep wisdom in our tradition that forces us to be public about our flaws, that stops us from hiding them and the shame they bring.
I think a lot about figurative hiding: when and why we choose to hide, the immediate comfort it provides, the long term pain it can cause. I think about it every day when I welcome our kids to school. I wonder what they are bringing with them that is not visible to those around them, and what are they intentionally trying to hide. Who doesn’t remember the desire to become invisible at some point, if not every day, of their elementary and middle school education? I remember it all to well, and it is part of why I love and believe in small schools.
Our admissions season is in full force, and we meet prospective parents daily. Rachel Feinerman, our Director of Admissions, and I love these meetings. It is a great joy to share the magic of our school, and to share the gratitude we both have for our own children’s education at Beit Rabban. I also really enjoy getting to know parents as they navigate big decisions for their children's lives. I always ask people if they have any concerns about Beit Rabban for their child. Sometimes parents ask “what if my child has no where to hide” because the school is intentionally intimate. I tell prospective parents that when we are doing our job well as educators there is, indeed, no where to hide at Beit Rabban, neither physically nor emotionally. When we know each child to the degree that multiple adults will notice both positive and concerning changes in a student we can ensure that neither their talents nor their pain is hidden. The follow up question is “what if a class is having social issues, how can my child avoid them?” This is not a what if. Children (and adults) have social issues, and they can either be ignored or addressed. A holistic, Jewish education includes learning to navigate these challenges, learning to name your feelings, to understand those of others, to disagree, to be angry, to explain why, to try solutions, to apologize, and to forgive. These issues are surfaced and this hard work is addressed in an intimate school like ours that values social-emotional learning in of itself and understands why it is critical to a student’s ability to focus on traditional subjects as well.
I have a harder time responding to another question prospective parents ask: “what is most special about Beit Rabban?” The list is long! There is a lot that is unique about our active, project-based approach to learning; the way we empower students with Jewish fluency, pride and joy; the use of Central Park as our playground and New York City as our campus… But, really, the thing that is most special about Beit Rabban, that is the foundation for all of these unique qualities of our school, is that we know and love each child. It is precisely the fact that there is no where to hide.
Wishing all a restful and rejuvenating Shabbat and a joyful Chag Sukkot,