June 4th, 2021 | 24th of Sivan, 5781 | Sh'lach
Dear Beit Rabban Community,
Thank you to all who joined our virtual gala last night to honor the Akabas family; to enjoy fascinating and fun breakout sessions; to raise critical funds for scholarship support; and to celebrate the Beit Rabban community.
Hearing from the Akabas children, now all adults, was an incredible reminder that our efforts as parents and educators are worth their weight in gold. Shai, Tal, Shoshana and Lev Akabas embody all that we hope for and we work towards in our students. They were the tinokot shel beit rabban- the children of beit rabban-- who grew into the sort of adults that this education is meant to create: people who possess the skills, the passion, and the driving sense of obligation necessary to have positive impact in all the communities to which they belong.
For those of you who know our honorees, it was a pleasure to share the nachas with you last night. For those of you who have not yet had the pleasure of getting to know the Akabas family, I share their speeches from the event below, and I encourage you to watch the tribute video. It will make you feel great about the Jewish future!
Wishing all a restful and rejuvenating Shabbat,
When I think back to my time at Beit Rabban, some of my most vivid memories are around community service. I’ll never forget making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and walking around the neighborhood and distributing them to homeless New Yorkers. Or the many mornings we spent at Dorot making food bags for the chagim for older people in the community. These types of experiences are part of the everyday curriculum.
And it’s one of the things that makes Beit Rabban so unique and special. The institution is built around tikkun olam. That ethos—and the ruach, or energy, to make it possible—has carried all the way from our founder and first head of school, Devorah Steinmetz, to Stephanie Ives today. At how many other schools would community service be one of the core memories etched into students’ minds?
It gives me great joy to see how Beit Rabban has persisted through challenge after challenge and continues to thrive today. My only regret is not staying in the City long enough to send my own kids. Instead, I live vicariously through the children of my fellow board members, hearing their stories and experiences. It’s this sense of community and connection that has kept me so attached to the organization over time. Thank you so much for honoring our whole family this year – we look forward to helping the school grow for many years to come.
It’s wonderful to see such a great turn-out tonight. And, thank you to all our friends and family who showed up tonight. It is particularly heartening to me, because when our oldest son, Shai, began kindergarten at Beit Rabban 29 years ago, such an event would not have been possible – there were only 11 students in the school. I didn’t care at the time that the school was tiny – all I cared about was that Beit Rabban was exactly what my husband Seth and I were looking for in a school for our children. It was something we hadn’t found at other schools. That “something” was a combination of many things, but some of the features we were attracted to were the rigor of the Jewish studies curriculum without the dogma, the respect for our child’s desire to be challenged, and an educational philosophy that did not present a preconceived notion about or put limits on what a child was capable of learning at a given age. Back then, I wasn’t thinking about the future of the school. I was thinking about what a great place it was for our children, who came home from school every day excited by a passage in the Chumash, an experiment they had done, or a math game they had played.
Most people, when they are first considering enrolling their child in a school, are worried about how stable the institution is and ‘will it be here when my child is entering 3rd grade?’ I am clearly way on the other side of that – collectively my children have spent 24 years at Beit Rabban. So, why do I still care so much about this place and this community and why do I stay involved?
To explain, let me tell you a short Talmudic story: One day a man named Honi was walking on the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked the man, "How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?" The man replied, "Seventy years." Honi then said to the man, “Are you crazy that you think you will live another seventy years and eat the fruit of this tree?" The man answered, "Perhaps not. However, when I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat the fruit of these trees."
I tell you this story because I have seen the payoff of a Beit Rabban education in my children, made possible because the school’s founder Devorah Steinmetz planted seeds 30 years ago. And, we must continue to plant the seeds for the future because there is a need for Beit Rabban in this world. Ilana Blumberg, who taught at Beit Rabban during its first years, wrote about her experience in her wonderful book “Open Your Hand, Teaching As A Jew; Teaching As an American.” She says in her book, at Beit Rabban…”there is the kind of learning that might help shape a human being who, we have reason to hope, will look beyond his or herself….the kind of learning that might improve our world” And, I believe that she really gets to the crux of the power of a Beit Rabban education with this beautiful phrase: She says “To be respected, to respect – so much comes from this.”
So, this is why we are here today. We are here to celebrate Beit Rabban and to make sure that not only do the current students continue to benefit from Beit Rabban but the next generation does as well. I feel we are obligated to make sure that the Beit Rabban tree will grow for those that will come after us. Not many things are more important than the education of our children and children of future generations.
My memories of school, alas, were more about economics than about Talmud, Chumash or Tikun Olam – though I’ve come around a lot since I graduated. But because I see economics in everything, I want to share a thought about its application to Beit Rabban and what Shai and Meg said. When economists talk about investment and capital, business people see buildings and equipment, but what we’ve seen in the 21st century is that, far and away, the most valuable capital investment is human capital, and so it is even more so for the Jewish people, indeed what Rabbis and Jewish scholars have been writing for millennia – education is a capital investment in the Jewish people. Al shlosha devarim ha’olam omed – on three things the world stands. And the first is learning.
So when we all, our family, and all of us at this gala, donate our time and money to the School, what we are really doing is making an investment in the Jewish people, and, if we follow the words Yishai hanavi, who proclaimed for Jews the role of or l’goyim (the light of the nations), a universal investment. I take great satisfaction in knowing that we, and our children, and indeed people everywhere will be receiving the dividends of these investments forever.