I am a news junky, and I have to break the habit before serious depression sets in. Corruption, income inequality, sexual harassment, threat of war, uncivil discourse, potential foreign interference in our elections, an assault on free speech. And that was just this past weekend!
Sadly, I probably will never break my news habit. So, how do I avoid depression? I go to my happy place. Where is that? Hillel Day School!
All I need to do is leave my office, and walk around the school in order for my hope in humanity to be restored. How could it not be? As Jews, we believe that our children are the guarantors for the future. In the Midrash, Rabbi Meir taught: “When the Israelites stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to them: ‘Bring me good guarantors that you will keep my Torah and then I will give it to you.’ They replied: ‘Sovereign of the Universe, our ancestors will be our guarantors.’ Said God them: ‘Your guarantors need guarantors themselves, for they have not been without fault.’ They answered, ‘Our prophets will be our guarantors.’ God replied: ‘They have also not been without fault.’ Then the Israelites said: ‘Our children will be our guarantors.’ To which God replied: ‘In truth these are good guarantors. For their sake I will give it to you.’”
Our children have to be our guarantors – they are our best hope for a better future. It is our responsibility, more than ever, to guide them properly, as a result of all of the challenges facing us in our country and in the world.
Recently, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gave a talk, which was also published, called, “Cultural Climate Change.” In his talk, and with the support of various historians, he argued that in many of the democracies that have come and gone through the ages, the decline began with the decline of religion. As a society becomes more secular, birth rates drop, morality diminishes, people become more selfish, and the structure of communities declines. Given the right set of circumstances, the United States, the greatest Democratic experiment in history, could be just as susceptible to decline. Democracies are fragile, and history has shown, people are often too willing to give up their ideals for perceived personal benefit or security. (And that never works out either!)
That is why Hillel Day School, and all Jewish and faith-based schools are more important than ever. The call to be a shining light to all nations is as important as ever. Our great tradition, beginning with the Torah, places a premium on how we conduct our lives, and how we treat and care for others. Christian denominations adopted many of our values, with the phrase “Judeo-Christian” being coined centuries ago. History has taught us that nations, societies, and communities are strengthened when families are strong, and values are taught in the home and school. We are strengthened when we teach our children how to act with respect and dignity and to work for the benefit of others. We are strengthened when we show compassion, and turn it into to action to help the most vulnerable who live among us. We live more harmoniously when we learn to listen, and hear each other, and work towards compromise for the sake of peace. This is our tradition, this is our inheritance, and this is what we need to be teaching our children as our guarantors and our hope.
That is what we strive to do each and every day at Hillel. When I walk around, I observe children learning with caring teachers who facilitate their learning. And in teaching today’s essential skills we are preparing children to grow and engage in the kinds of work that will help solve the complex problems facing our globe. It is crucial to be able to navigate the ambiguities constantly confronting us with a strong sense of self grounded in ethics, empathy and morality – and that is what I see being taught at Hillel. Our educators are doing their best, working with children who are undergoing tremendous growth and development. Of course, this also means that sometimes things go awry! They are kids! We are human. And we learn.
More often than not, when walking around, I see teachers giving students a supportive, loving hug or a high-five for doing the right thing, or for an effort they have made. I see an older student holding the hand of a younger child as she escorts him to his class. I see a student stopping to help another student pick up belongings that have dropped. I go into the Maker Space and see groups of children working collaboratively with respect and patience. I come upon a class in deep discussion, and I can actually “see” their critical thinking at work. I see the hope they symbolize when a group of young children comes up to me to ask if they can organize a fundraiser to help the victims of the recent hurricanes.
We are committed to teaching our children the skills and values they need to be the rightful guarantors and the inheritors of the world God gave us, with the profound hope that they will contribute to restoring the values and principles that have made our nation great – one person, one neighborhood and one community at a time.