In just a few minutes, we will gather today for Shabbat B'Yachad, our last pre-Shabbat assembly of the year, and we are so delighted to celebrate with all the community members who joined. This Shabbat B'Yachad is special, honoring our now annual Pride Shabbat tradition to celebrate all our Beit Rabban LGBTQ+ community members and allies. Dressed in our rainbow finest, we will read Torah, dance, recognize birthdays, and watch a special video. This video is a compilation of short recordings from staff, students, and parents explaining what Pride means to them.
Assemblies are interesting moments for schools. An assembly is not the time for deep reflection or nuance. Big ideas and historical events get conveyed in soundbites at assemblies. We are committed to teaching with complexity, encouraging children to wonder, question, and reflect. In fact, oversimplifying things when teaching is ineffective and often counterproductive. So, why would we mark something as complicated as sexual and gender identity in a twenty-minute block of dancing in rainbow clothing?
These gatherings, however long or short, are moments to convey our communal values to our children in affective ways. They are times when we implicitly and explicitly showcase our priorities and let our children know what their grown-ups believe. By having children read Torah each week at Shabbat B'Yachad, we convey to them that our people's texts and traditions are in their hands; they are the stewards of Torah going forward. When we name each student and teacher's birthday, we communicate that each person in our community is essential. When we dance together at the beginning and end of each assembly, we remind our children and ourselves how critical it is to celebrate and to "worship God with joy" (a saying and song based on Psalms 100). These are the experiences memories are made of.
During Pride Month, we hold a particular type of heavy burden and holy responsibility as educators. We know that countless children have suffered and continue to suffer because they are not confident that who they are is affirmed by their grown-ups. As Jewish educators, we know it can be excruciating not to feel you belong in your religious community. This is true for LGBTQ+ kids and other children who do not fit neatly into the identities expected of them. As we all know, there are drastic consequences to this. There are also lifelong benefits to growing up with an anchoring sense of belonging, and religious communities have a unique capacity to provide this. In our 20 minutes of Shabbat B'Yachad today, we will affirm to our children that their grown-ups love them for who they are because each of them is created in the image of God.
We affirm something else in this short gathering. We demonstrate our commitment to optimism, to Jewish optimism. We are a people that pray for a Messiah we are not intellectually confident will arrive. We are a people who prayed for thousands of years to return to a Jerusalem that was more of a metaphor than a literal place. We are a people who have internalized the maxim from Pirkei Avot "It is not on you to finish the work, but neither are you released from the obligation to do the work." We do the work of making the world better because we believe the world can be better and because we believe it is our job to try. We do this work even if we will not see the entire "tikkun" (repair) in our lifetimes, even if our progeny cannot identify the causal link between our work and the fruit of our labor that they hopefully reap. It is our responsibility to do this holy work and to do it with joy!
The work of LGBTQ+ human and civil rights has been long fought, and it has a ways to go. Needless to say, it did not happen overnight at Stonewall. Instantaneous miracles are of a different time when God was obviously manifest from moment to moment. Today, we are responsible for manifesting God's work. It turns out that we are a lot slower than God, have to work a lot harder than God, and need many more partners than God needs. The history of LGBTQ+ activism is an optimistic manifestation of this current reality. Celebrating Pride as a school community affords us the ability to talk about all those who have worked hard to bring change and to name so many things that have improved in our lifetimes while affirming that there is much to be done and also pointing out how important it is to actively protect all advances that have been made (when they are being explicitly threatened and also when they seem to be non-reversible advances). It should give us and our children hope and optimism and make us feel deeply responsible.
I hope and pray that Beit Rabban engenders a deep sense of belonging for each child and that this foundation inspires them toward optimism. It takes work, just like all social change. It is holy work, and we are grateful to do it in the community.