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For the Love of the Complicated

April 28, 2023 - 7th of Iyyar 5783 - Parashat Achrei Mot-Kedoshim 5783 / פָּרָשַׁת אַחֲרֵי מוֹת־קְדשִׁים


Dear Beit Rabban Community,


It's been a while since I've included a personal message in Ta Shma as I've been tied up in the "busy season" of Jewish day school life, the beautiful and very hectic period between Pesach and Yom HaAtzmaut. While I have been blessed to see many of you in person in the past month at events like Someone Special Day and the Yom HaAtzmaut communal celebration, I have missed writing to you. I enjoy providing a window into the day-to-day at Beit Rabban and sharing the nachas I experience regularly. I also use these messages to process my experiences and to sharpen my vision. This Erev Shabbat, I need to write.


Complicated, messy, honest, committed, and loving relationships are top of mind for me right now. I am thinking about staff dynamics, conversations with parents, student relationships, classroom teaching, and how we convey values to our children.


One of the reasons I chose Beit Rabban for my children and came to work here is that I am drawn to complexity. We all do better when we engage with curiosity, appreciate nuance, and question assumptions. As a prospective parent, I recognized an embrace of complexity in Beit Rabban, and I now feel responsible for protecting and sustaining it. I am confident that our best bet in raising resilient and healthy people, caring human beings, and committed Jews is to engage them honestly in the complexity of the world they inhabit. This is why I believe in forcing difficult and often awkward conversations that rarely resolve in one sitting. This is why I believe in character education rather than discipline for children: reward and punishment are much faster and easier to implement, but their transformative capacity is extremely limited. This is why I believe children learn more from questioning ideas and information presented to them than they do from accepting "truths." This is why when children ask hard moral and theological questions when they study Torah (which they do start as toddlers!), the best response is to celebrate their engagement, share a couple of different ideas, and ask them what they think and why. When you work at understanding, you forge a deeper, more lasting relationship- whether the relationship is with an idea, a value, a text, or a person.


This week has presented a lot of complicated, messy, and loving conversations and interactions. Some are resolved, some are still in process, and some have only begun. In the last few days, I have had the privilege of watching colleagues negotiate complicated relationships with emotion and empathy and with an unwavering sense of commitment. I was affected by parents who advocated for a deeper level of intentionality in a particular set of circumstances, even though this path would likely surface more and challenging work for everyone, including their own children. I listened to one of our students share a Dvar Torah where he wondered about God in an unbelievably sophisticated way- asking whether God's focus of atonement in this week's parashah might have been self-directed. Maybe God realized that they had acted with a rash callousness in killing Nadav and Avihu and then delved into the details of teshuvah by articulating the laws of Yom Kippur. There are a lot more where these examples came from.


By midday today, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, forgetting that I love the challenges and wishing things would get easier. I was ready to end the day early and go to the gym, get my nails done, eat a boatload of chocolate cake, or do all three at once. None was an option because I teach the last period on Fridays. And then, one of my students steered me back toward the energy that comes from amazing, complicated conversations. He asked a question… "but what is the exact definition of Zionism?"


I had prepared to teach about our political system and the role of lobbying representatives in the context of food insecurity. We did not get very far on that topic. After the Zionism question, I asked the class who wanted to hear my answer to their classmate's question. When everyone's hands went up, I put aside my lesson plan and talked about one of the most complicated and messy topics in American Judaism; with a group of middle school students; and with all the nuance, love, and obligation that I believe it deserves. The most remarkable part was, as always, the students. They asked a straightforward question and embraced a very complicated answer. And I felt like there was no place I'd rather be… not even eating ice cream while getting a pedicure.


Wishing all a restful and rejuvenating Shabbat,

Stephanie

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