December 17th, 2021 | 13th of Tevet, 5782 | VaYechi וַיְחִי
Dear Beit Rabban Community,
It has been a very full and exciting week here at Beit Rabban! Today we welcomed 6th grade parents to attend the Athenian Drama festival, complete with original plays students wrote as part of their unit on Ancient Greece. Every time we have been able to invite parents into the building we feel a little closer to “normal.” Stephanie and I also hosted class meetings every night this week. We thoroughly enjoyed hearing your feedback and were so glad that the teachers participated in the meetings and had the opportunity to hear from parents directly. We want to thank you for your partnership!
This week’s Parasha, Parashat Vayechi, not only marks the conclusion to Sefer Breishit, but it is also the source of the traditional blessing that parents give to their children (technically we get the blessing for sons from this Parasha, and the blessing for daughters emerges later in the Jewish tradition). Giving my children their blessings on Fridays is one of my absolute favorite traditions, and even though I love this ritual, I have thought a lot about what it means to bless your child to be like someone else. Some years ago, I began adding to my blessing at the conclusion, “May you be like...” and I say my own child’s name. I deeply and explicitly want to convey to them that I want them to be themselves wholeheartedly as much as I want all the good influences of others upon them.
At Beit Rabban, we strive to ensure that we are helping students to become their best selves, fully actualized (yes, that might be ambitious and could be a lifelong journey) young people who understand their role in the world. We believe deeply that while a commendable goal for a school is that everyone is comfortable with who they are, reflection, growth, and improvement are also core values at Beit Rabban. In our Chativah (middle school), we have students lead their parent-teacher conferences themselves. In order to do this, they set goals in every class, and there is ongoing time built into the school year for them to reflect on their progress. They select their own work samples and prepare for the conferences to fully take some ownership of their learning.
We want students to learn from parents, elders, peers, teachers, people who are positive role models who can help to influence them. As part of our 8th grade Sheirut Kehilati program (where students are being challenged to think about how they will make a difference, and how they will choose to participate) students have been meeting with a series of role models, people who are making a significant difference in the world. They have learned from Ruth Messinger (from AJWS, who spoke about a life of service), Nitzan Pelman (from Climb Hire, who spoke about education equity and opportunity), Greg Silverman (from the Upper West Side Campaign Against Hunger, who spoke about food justice), BR alum Raphi Gold (from the Jewish Youth Climate Movement, who spoke about environmental activism), Vlad Khakin (from the ADL, who spoke about hate and racism), and BR alum Shoshana Akabas (from New Neighbors Partnership, who spoke about immigration and refugees). In the coming weeks they will meet with Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, founder of CBST, among other inspiring change agents. We hope that as they learn from these outstanding people, they will become inspired during this period of critical identity formation as young adolescents.
There is an inherent tension between feeling good about yourself (positive identity) and also wanting to improve. Are we ever just as good as we are going to be, and do we stop trying to improve? We want our children to know that they are loved and accepted for who they are. We want them to be confident and proud. We don’t want to convey to children that they are not good enough and saying, “you should be like” someone else can inherently project that there is something wrong with them or missing. Maybe the goal is to help our children develop a growth mindset and an intrinsic motivation towards healthy self-improvement while providing them the unconditional love and support they get from families and our nurturing school community, so that they always know that they are already good enough. Maybe the goal is to surround them with amazing teachers and role models, so they will strive on their own to be like the best of humanity.
My blessing for all of our children is that they choose to be influenced by Jewish values, and role models who will help lead them towards a life filled with reflection and empathy, wonder and excitement, traditions and mitzvot, healthy relationships and community. May they be like Efraim, Menashe, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah, and may they be fiercely and entirely themselves.
Chazak, Chazak, V’Nitchazek!