November 4, 2022 | 11th of Cheshvan, Parashat Lech-Lecha 5783 / פָּרָשַׁת לֶךְ־לְךָ
Dear Beit Rabban Community,
As I sit to write this message, I do so with the aftertaste of tears of nachas. I spent a few minutes walking around and taking in the holiness of our seventh-grade students learning with their parents, studying this week’s parashah (Torah portion) using the methodology that they will work on all year and next.
People have very different perspectives on whether it is appropriate to cry at work. Whatever your perspective, I will say that I can’t remember ever crying at work in the seven years I practiced law, yet it is impossible for me to go a week as a head of school without breaking into tears: every b'nai mitzvah I join; every hug I witness between a teacher and a student; every time I walk into a classroom and the children do not notice because they are so deeply engaged in learning with a partner; every email I’m copied on from our principal to a teacher complimenting them on something they observed. But what gets me most is intergenerational learning, the many times when parents, grandparents, and/or grown-up friends join students to learn together.
You can imagine the myriad of reasons why this makes me emotional: making learning front and center as a communal value or feeling a sense of “m’dor l’dor,” the passing of our tradition from generation to generation. Here's another reason family learning makes me so emotional (one that is less obvious but no less powerful), it is because we believe deeply in whole child education.
The philosophy of whole child education, always core to Beit Rabban, is that teaching must go beyond the content of a particular subject area, it must address the various components of the child: intellectual, academic, emotional, and physical. Only when all these elements are considered does education succeed. For us, the whole child goes beyond even these categories. It also means we engage in the spiritual life of a child. It means we engage the key figures in a child’s life in their education. It means we think about a child’s physical surroundings as opportunities for learning. It means we believe their education is not limited to their in-school experience. Their development happens 24/7, twelve months a year- not 8/5, ten months a year.
Which leads me to another reason this has been an emotional week at Beit Rabban, and this time not just for me. Multiple people reported that they cried tears of happiness for our community this week.
We made two major announcements this week that will allow us to better serve each of our children as a whole child.
First, we announced that we will be moving to a permanent home in the B'nai Jeshurun Community House in time for the 23-24 school year! This is a big deal for a whole lot of reasons: one home for all our grades; enough space in each classroom and more than enough classrooms to grow; facilities we’ve never had like a gym, theater, and a roof deck; space to build Beit Rabban inspired and inspiring learning environments for a library/Beit Mirash, an art and makers studio, and a science and exploration center.
This is also a big deal for a bigger reason, for a whole child sort of reason. This move provides an opportunity for us to deepen a sense of belonging in a physical home for each child, for their teachers, for their parents, for their grandparents, for our alumni, and for the broader Beit Rabban community. We have long thought about the “beit” in Beit Rabban as alluding to the importance of home ("bayit" being the word for home in Hebrew), a place of belonging. Our community has indeed created a warm and open home over the years even without the anchoring of our own space. We know that the blessing of a permanent space will help us do this even better. And we know that engendering belonging is a critical feature of whole-child education.
Our second big announcement is an unusual one. Along with our new, permanent home, next year will also bring the launch of a unique program to ensure that every Beit Rabban child can enjoy the magic of a Jewish summer camp experience. The Professor Getzel M. Cohen z"l Jewish Camp Fund will support families who cannot afford Jewish summer camp by providing significant financial support in addition to whatever the family has been awarded in scholarship support from their camp of choice.
Why is this program so important, important enough to share when you announce a move? Because the Jewish experiential education of summer camp changes children’s lives forever. Because the intersection of Jewish day school and Jewish summer camp is our best bet for Jewish continuity. Because when we think about a whole child we need to think about their parents, including the financial stress that families hold in trying to give their kids the Jewish experiences they dream of for them. Because we don’t think parents should have to choose between Jewish day school and Jewish camp. Because Jewish summer camp was transformative for Professor Cohen in a way that changed the trajectory of his life and, in turn, impacted so many other lives and the Jewish community overall. Because we have incredibly generous donors who want this for all of our children as well. Because whole child education should include the child’s whole year.
Any week that we can do even a little better at serving a whole child is a good week. A week when we announce two big strategies to better serve a whole child, in the broad way we understand this calling, is a spectacular week.
May we enjoy many more opportunities to celebrate good news, to better serve our children and their families, and to share tears of joy for the institution and community we love.
Wishing all a restful and rejuvenating Shabbat,