Entering Shabbat with Gratitude

November 16, 2018

Enjoy this week's message from our Head of School.

Dear Beit Rabban Community, 

I, like so many others, enjoyed a 5.5 hour commute home with my children last night. It was obviously exhausting and uncomfortable. As my own children watched movies on my iPhone in the backseat, I found myself with a lot of time to think about the predicaments of children who were stuck on school buses all over our city, families trying to evacuate fires in California, and the countless people across the world attempting to migrate toward safer lives. There are many productive things to do with the sort empathy that is triggered by moments of vulnerability. As a Jew, I am personally driven toward action by the empathy that comes with a collective memory of vulnerability. Recently, I have also been trying to use these triggers as opportunities for gratitude, for counting my blessing.


I came to school this morning feeling deeply grateful for all the privileges and luck (?) that ensured my family's safe return last night, and I felt the need to express that gratitude through a communal ritual. The Anafim (third grade) class was generous enough to welcome me into their beautiful tefillah this morning. After praying with them for some time and before starting the Amidah, we discussed the tradition of saying the " Birkat haGomel" blessing after experiencing something  scary or dangerous, like recovering from a serious illness or completing a dangerous journey. I explained that the berachah is meant to be said in a minyan, but I wanted to say it with them because they are an important prayer community to me. Students asked great question (of course!) like whether an experience has to be objectively scary or just scary to the person who experienced it. Then, I thanked Hashem for my safe return, reciting the prayer to which the kids responded "Mi shgmaleych kol tov, hu yigmaleych kol tov selah," May they who has bestowed goodness upon you, bestow every goodness upon you forever.

Gratitude has been front and center at Beit Rabban this past week as we prepare for Thanksgiving. We decided to  use Thanksgiving as a hook to stretch our capacity for gratitude: to be more mindful of opportunities to feel grateful and to give thanks; to look closely and recognize those around us who deserve thanks; and to understand that our Jewish tradition provides many rituals for ongoing expressions of thanksgiving, specifically berachot, blessings. Our music and tefillah educator, Jacob "Spike" Kraus, worked with children in all classes on a variety of the less common berachot, and we all studied tefillot and songs of thanksgiving, like Naomi Shemer's Al Kol Eileh. Older students are working on daily gratitude journals, and  classes used community meetings to identify a particular person or neighborhood helper whom they want to collectively thank. Each class is currently engaged in a design challenge to develop a Shoebox-O-Thanks for the person they selected. We will all deliver our gratitude, literally and figuratively, next Wednesday on Erev Thanksgiving. Raising kinds who can count their blessing is unquestionably a good thing for the world. 

I enter Shabbat this week both an abundance of gratitude and with the empathy that accompanies it, and I pray that goodness be bestowed upon all those who are still in harms way, now and forever. 

Wishing all a restful and rejuvenating Shabbat,
Stephanie