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Entering Shavuot with a Mixed Basket of Emotions

May 16h, 2021 | 5th of Sivan, 5781 | Shavuot

Dear Beit Rabban Community,

What a Jewish week of mixed emotions we have had.

It was a week of inspiration and celebration at Beit Rabban. All classes prepared for Shavuot, and we enjoyed a special Shabbat B'Yachad assembly on Friday with a long list of "sha"Torah readers and boogying to Shavuot music while carrying "bikkurim" in containers ranging from wicker baskets to tupperware. We participated in a magical and nachas filled bat mitzvah of one of our seventh grade students who read her parashah impeccably, a student who only learned to read Hebrew three years ago! We celebrated the approval of a COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as twelve, and shared profound relief as our first students began to get vaccinated. There is so much blessing to recognize, appreciate and celebrate.

It has also been a week of sadness and fear. Many of us have close friends and relatives in Israel who are feeling especially vulnerable right now. We are carrying a heavy burden of worry for our family and friends, for our people, and for all people in Israel and Gaza. These feeling are also part of our shared experience at school.

As educators and parents, we think about whether and how to talk to our children about the things that worry us most. Many of us do not have the choice whether to discuss the situation in Israel with our children- it may be an unavoidable reality depending on whether you have close relatives in Israel or your child is old enough to read the news on their own. Some of us also choose to speak with our children about the conflict overall or at specific times of violence because we feel that knowing what is happening in Israel is critical to their Jewish life, even when things are scary.

At school, we feel it is important to convey to the children that times like these require the Jewish people to focus our attention to Israel. Focusing attention on Israel looks different in different grades, but in all grades it involves tefillah, prayer. Even in in preschool, we believe it is appropriate to say that we are thinking of people in Israel who are scared and hurt, and we are asking Hashem to help them. Teachers explained to students that in response to conflict, danger and human suffering, we have a tradition to say Tehillim (Psalms). We have been reciting Psalm 121 in all classes, younger students just saying the first line or two while older students recited the whole psalm. Classes are also emphasizing other tefillot that focus on peace and healing. In older classes, teachers provided more context and some classes have continued the conversation, depending on whether the children continued to ask questions. I joined the oldest students in sixth and seventh grades on Friday to make sure they understood the basic geography and context for what is happening and to provide a forum for them to share their feelings and wonderings. Unfortunately, I expect this forum will be necessary for some time to come.

As we enter Shavuot, zman matan torateinu, the holiday that commemorates giving of the Torah and arguably the beginning of our people's shared religion, I am carrying a very heavy basket. It is filled with bikkurim, and I can count my blessings and the blessings of our community. Just as our forbearers who carried their bikkurim, first fruit offering, to the Temple were required to recount their own trajectories starting with a wandering Aramean, I can look back and breakdown the path that brought us to this day. I recognize all those who have been essential to our survival physically, emotionally and spiritually over the course of this very difficult year. While my basket is filled with blessings, it is also filled with the heavy burden of the suffering of friends and relatives, of our people, of all the people of Israel and Gaza. I carry a very mixed basket of emotions into this Shavuot. I suspect many of you feel similarly.

With all this, I take some comfort in knowing that I am not the first Jew to hold both celebration and mourning, joy and sadness. This is a familiar troupe of our people, and it is one that our children are being inducted into as Jews. It is daunting to be their educators during this time, and I hope we rise to the occasion. We definitely feel honored to be holding a space for these emotions, conversations, and tefillot with your children.

Wishing all a peaceful and transcendent Shavuot,


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