March 25th, 2022 | 22nd of Adar II, 5782 | Shmini שְּׁמִינִי
Dear Beit Rabban Community,
What an amazing week at Beit Rabban! It was delightful to welcome so many guests into our building today for Someone Special Day. Seeing grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and friends engaging with children in everything from math challenges to making pillow covers for Pesach was spectacular. We are thrilled to be able to come together in person!
Last night at our Family History and Heritage Fair, we celebrated the research and work of our 5th grade students who have been engaging with the essential questions, “Who am I? And how did I get here?” Learning across disciplines and in classes such as Humanities, Toshba and Science, these students have studied human evolution; human reproduction; and American immigration. Most recently, they completed a study of their own unique family histories. They have explored the idea that objects can hold meaning - and last night we heard the unique stories of 4 family artifacts. A Chazan’s hat, a coin purse, an etrog case, and a school report card were the focus of four magnificent museum displays.
I would love to share the words with you that I shared with the students last night:
First, I am so proud of you. You worked hard and we can’t wait to celebrate you tonight and visit your exquisite exhibits. I want to remind you that you come from a long history of Jewish tradition that values memory, and the importance of knowing your history. Every year we reread the Torah - the most sacred text of our people.
During many of our holidays and commemorations, we retell the stories of our victories and our tragedies. The most obvious example of this, for me, is the Passover Seder, where every year we retell the story of our exodus from Egypt our journey from slavery to freedom, and we recite these words from Mishna Psachim - “B’chol dor va’dor Chayav Adam Lirot et Atsmo, keilu hu yatsah mi’ mitzrayim” - In every generation we are obligated to see ourselves as if we had come out of Egypt.’ This is so powerful because it is a call to action - we are being asked to internalize and feel this history as if we had personally experienced it. And, these words recited at the Seder Pesach have been said by Jews all over the world for about 1800 hundred years - whether in Tunisia, Shanghai, Poland, or Manhattan - this tradition has been part of our people, of our history.
Judaism does not just ask us to retell the stories of our collective history, we also have a tradition of Yizkor - the obligation to remember people who have died, and to remember events like the Shoah.
This event tonight is not the retelling of our collective history - it is a celebration of your personal family histories, because these stories are part of shaping the very particular identity that each of you uniquely holds. I have recently become interested in the concept of origin stories - the idea that people benefit from knowing the specific stories of how we came to be through the stories of the generations we are most closely connected to. I learned that there has been some fascinating research from psychologists Robyn Fivush and Marshall Duke who concluded that children who are told the stories of their own families - who know information such as, how their parents met, and where their grandparents came from - people who can answer these types of questions, have higher self-esteem and tend to feel more control over their lives.
Wow - this research that you have done for the Heritage Fair, was not only an opportunity to think like an historian, and learn interviewing, writing, presentation and artistic skills, it was actually helpful for you in your own social emotional growth. Knowing these family stories helps you to grow stronger ‘personal identities’. These stories you will share with us tonight, they are now your responsibility to keep, and to one day pass on to your children and future generations.
Last night, students became the keepers of their family stories, as told through these seemingly ordinary objects. Kol Ha’Kavod to our 5th grade students and their magnificent teachers.