June 10th, 2022 | 11th of Sivan, 5782 | Naso
Dear Beit Rabban Community,
We will gather virtually at 1:05 PM today for Shabbat B’Yachad, our last Zoom assembly of the year, and we hope you will join! https://zoom.us/j/5139838807. This Shabbat B’Yached is special, honoring our now annual tradition of Beit Rabban Pride Shabbat to celebrate all our Beit Rabban LGBTQ+ community members and allies. Dressed in our rainbow finest, we will read Torah, dance, recognize birthdays, and watch a special video. This video is a compilation of short recordings from staff, students, and parents explaining what Pride means to them.
Assemblies are interesting moments for schools. An assembly is not time for deep reflection or nuance. Big ideas and historical events get conveyed in soundbites at assemblies. We are committed to teaching with complexity--to encouraging children to wonder, question, and reflect. In fact, we believe that oversimplifying things when teaching is not effective and often counterproductive. So, why would we mark something as complicated as sexual and gender identity in a twenty-minute block of dancing in rainbow clothing?
These gatherings, however long or short, are moments to convey our communal values to our children in affective ways. They are times when we implicitly and explicitly showcase our priorities and let our children know what their grown-ups believe. By having children read Torah each week at Shabbat B'yachad, we convey to our children that our people's texts and traditions are in their hands, they are the stewards of Torah going forward. When we name each student and teacher's birthday, we communicate that each person in our community is important. When we dance together at the beginning and end of each assembly, we remind our children and ourselves how critical it is to celebrate and to "worship God with joy" (a saying and song based on Psalms 100). These are the experiences memories are made of.
During Pride Month, I feel a heavy burden of responsibility as an educator knowing how many children have suffered and continue to suffer because they are not confident that who they are is affirmed by their grown-ups. This is true for LGBTQ+ kids and other children who do not fit neatly into the identities expected of them. As we all know, there are drastic consequences to this. There are also lifelong benefits to growing up with an anchoring sense of belonging. In our 20 minutes of Shabbat B'Yachad today, we affirmed to our children that their grown-ups love them for who they are because each of them is created in the image of God.
We affirm something else in this short gathering. We affirm our commitment to optimism, to Jewish optimism. We are a people that prays for a Messiah we are not intellectually confident will arrive. We are a people who prayed for thousands of years to return to a Jerusalem that was more of a metaphor than a literal place. We are a people who have internalized the maxim from Pirkei Avot “it is not on you to finish the work, but neither are you released from the obligation to do the work.” We do the work of making the world better because we believe the world can be better and we believe it is our job to try. We do this work even if we will not see the full “tikkun,” repair, in our own lifetimes, even if our progeny are not able to identify the causal link between our work and the fruit of our labor that they hopefully reap. It is our responsibility to do this holy work and to do it with joy!
The work of LGBTQ+ human and civil rights has been long fought, and it has a ways to go. Needless to say, it did not happen overnight at Stonewall. Instantaneous miracles are of a different time when God was obviously manifest moment to moment. Today, we are responsible to manifest God’s work. It turns out, that we are a lot slower than God, we have to work a lot harder than God, and we need a lot more partners than God needs. The history of LGBQ+ activism is an optimistic manifestation of this current reality. Celebrating Pride as a school community affords us the ability to talk about all those who have worked hard to bring change and to name so many things that have improved in our own lifetimes, while affirming that there is much to be done, and also pointing to clear examples of how important it is to actively protect all advances that have been made. It should give us and our children hope and optimism, and it should make us feel deeply responsible.
This is a core tenet of our education at Beit Rabban, teaching toward responsibility to dream big and then to take all the steps necessary to work towards those dreams for ourselves, our people, and the world. In doing this, we must always balance empowerment and humility- it is not an easy thing to teach children or to internalize as adults, but it is critical to making a positive difference.
In our Chativah, the middle school, we have a weekly period called Sherut Kehillati, community service. After a few years of service within the school and for our larger school community, eighth-graders use this period to learn from people making a difference on various causes. They learn about each speaker and their cause, interview the speaker, and then write reflections on their learnings and send thoughtful notes of appreciation to these volunteers. They also go deep into one cause and study the social change lever of lobbying our government. This year the eighth grade worked with Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger to study food insecurity and to be trained to lobby in Congress, which they did. Just a couple of weeks ago during their senior class trip to Washington, DC they lobbied on food security, specifically SNAP benefits, in both Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand’s offices. The last component of this Sherut Kehillati class in eighth grade is to choose an issue that speaks to you, research the issue, identify an organization that works to advance that issue, and finally share with others why you think they too should support this organization. The organizations our seniors selected include:
American Jewish Committee
Jewish Youth Climate Movement
The Trevor Project
Washington Center for Equitable Growth
The summary of this work is available here, and we hope that their research and passion will inspire you to persevere in your work of bettering the world with an extra measure of joy and optimism.
I hope and pray that Beit Rabban engenders a deep sense of belonging for each child and that this foundation inspires them toward optimism. It takes work, just like all social change. It is holy work, and we are grateful to be doing it in the community.
Wishing all a restful and rejuvenating Shabbat,