The Importance of Community when the Days are Dark

December 21, 2018

Shabbat Shalom from Beit Rabban. Read our full weekly message and watch our weekly slideshow here.

Dear Beit Rabban Community,

Today is the darkest day of the year.  Whether or not your personal mood is affected by sunlight, it is hard to avoid the depressing overtones of that sentence. In fact, the Talmud teaches that Adam HaRishon fell into a complete panic in the days leading up to the first ever winter solstice, convinced that darker days was a sign of imminent return to a state of pre-creation nothingness, "tohu va'vohu". Once the solstice passed and light began to return incrementally with each day, Adam realized that this was just "the way of the world." And so, he proceeded to party with Chava for the next 8 days (making it 16 the following year!). Peoples across the globe and across history have dealt with this dark day by creating communal ritual, holidays, celebrations and ceremonies that add light to the darkness both literally and figuratively. 
This year, as the winter solstice happens to fall out on our last day of school for the semester, we decided to mark the day as so many others do and have done, through a communal experience. 
Community is at the core of Beit Rabban. We intentionally cultivate community all the time --daily, weekly, monthly and spontaneously -- to ensure that students experience the foundation of belonging they need to learn, to fully enjoy celebratory times, and to navigate difficult and dark ones.

One very special community building program that is a Beit Rabban tradition is the annual Whole School Project, when students are divided into cross-grade groups to explore a particular topic over the course of a week and then share their learnings with the whole school in a culmination ceremony. This year, we scheduled our Whole School Project to culminate on the winter solstice with a celebratory gathering planned and executed by our students. 

Last week, students prepared for the whole school project with their individual classes by learning relevant science, Hebrew words, and Jewish texts. Children studied the science of the solstice in age-appropriate ways. For our gan children, this started with very basic planetary science, and the enduring understanding of the gravitational relationship between the  Sun and the Earth. Older students, graphed a full year of New York City sunrise and sunset times to use data to understand the progression from the summer solstice to the winter solstice. Hebrew classes focused on planets, space exploration and the like. Students also learned Jewish traditions about the solstice. We ended last week with all students ranking their preferences among Whole School Project cross-age groups, including: art, dance, folktale performance, midrashic performance, music, poetry, science and technology.

All week, students have worked in these teacher-facilitated groups to prepare a presentation for our winter solstice celebration at the end of today's school day. The science group explored the three types of radiation that emanate from sun; ultraviolet, visible, and infrared lights. They experimented to determine which elements and molecules fluoresce in reaction to ultraviolet lights, finding the power of tonic water to be particularly funny! They tested the power of the Sun's rays using magnifying glasses to burn holes through newspaper and leaves. The art group worked on a large-scale mural, exploring and representing the textured character of the hot molten ball of gas that is the Sun. The folktale group studying various traditional stories explaining the solstice, settling on a Native American folktale to perform. The midrash group studied the Talmudic text about Adam HaRishon that I referenced earlier, writing a play inspired by this story. The dance group choreographed and will perform a dance in honor of the solstice. The music group wrote an original song (both music and lyrics) about the solstice that our music teacher, a celebrated musician, is convinced may be of the best songs he has ever performed! The poetry group read and analyzed poetry written about the solstice, eventually writing their own solstice poetry to share. Finally, the tech group was busy documenting all this learning, collaborating and creating across Beit Rabban by taking pictures. Their contribution to today's culmination is this "behind the scenes" video about our Whole School Project, fully prepared by the students themselves from interviews, to camera work to editing.

In fact, it has been a very bright week at Beit Rabban. One of community bonding, collaboration and celebration. We helped each other get through the darkness and the last few days of a semester that tend to drag. I hope that the video we share below and some of the many midrashim and texts on the topic of the winter solstice (check out this compilation from our founder, Dr. Devora Steinmetz) add light to your winter solstice Shabbat as well. 
Wishing all a restful and rejuvenating Shabbat,