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Adam Eilath

Yesterday afternoon, I went down to the local creek with my daughters to engage in Tashlich, the ritual that embodies the casting off of our sins during the high holidays. I showed my daughters how to crumble up tiny pieces of bread and to place them in their pockets and the crevices of their clothes. I told them that every crumb represented something in their life that they wanted to change in the coming year. We stood by the creek and cast away our sins into the water, off of our clothes, and out of our pockets, and started our year with a clean slate.

One of the criteria that is necessary to fulfill the ritual of Tashlich is for the body of water to be moving. The creek by our house is modest and on any given day, it might not be so evident that the creek has enough water to meet the minimum requirements of a “moving body of water.” We found a spot where we could clearly watch the water move and determined that it was “kosher” to do Tashlich. After we were finished, I let my daughters run around the patch of grass beside the creek and I stood by the bank. My eyes became transfixed by the image of the water flowing over the rocks on the bed of the creek. It was so gentle and natural. I found myself completely mesmerized by the calmness of the creek.

This Rosh Hashanah was so different from every other year. The ability to sit at home and engage in prayers by myself while contemplating the past year and the changes I am hoping for this coming year was a surprising gift that I encountered this weekend. I was able to reflect on the ways in which this year has been an uphill climb. There have been so many obstacles in our way as we have tried to fulfill our basic obligations and our core responsibilities. Simple tasks require so much creativity and resilience. Things we once did in a carefree manner, have become complicated and involved.

As I was staring at the water flowing over the rocks, I thought about the following questions: What has been so hard for me personally this year? What do I want to cast away? What would make my life better and what makes a good life in general?

I believe that a good life is characterized by calmness, by a sense of meaning that transcends the “every day,” by empathy for others, and loving the stranger.

As I was walking home, I realized that the “normal” I am seeking, might not come this year. Perhaps what I need to do, is to seek calmness in the chaos of the life we live in. In looking around at our world, I am inspired most by our students and our youngest children who have embodied that calmness throughout this time. I’ve watched our kindergarten students effortlessly line up six feet apart, and wash their hands thoroughly and navigate the “new classroom rules” in a way we never expected as educators. There is a calm that they embody even in this new reality.

This year, I want to cast away the resistance I experience when I encounter change. I want the waters of change to flow over me effortlessly as they do for our children. In most years, I cast my sins off into the water. This year more than anything, I want to bring the calmness of the water into my life and all of our lives.

Adam Eilath

I’ve been thrilled about the return of professional sports and especially about the NBA playoffs which are in full swing at the moment (Go Raptors!). There has been a wonderful competitive spirit that has filled the NBA bubble in Orlando. Watching great basketball is incredible. There is something so natural about the way players move in synchronized motions around the court, finding their spots and making rapid passes across the key. Watching a well-trained and coordinated team can be as graceful as watching ballet or listening to an orchestra.

And yet, every game there is at least one player who is a little bit “extra.” If you don’t know what the term “extra” means, welcome to the club. I didn’t know what “extra” meant either, but years of teaching high school students meant that I was exposed to all the latest slang and terminology! Being extra, means being “over the top,” excessive or engaging in unnecessary dramatic behavior. Basketball players who are “extra” often show off, playing individually and trying to flaunt and show off their skill set at the expense of their teammates. Instead of passing the ball, they might try to dribble around three or four defenders to score a bucket. Instead of a simple layup or high percentage shot, they might try to show off with a fancy dunk. As an avid basketball fan, I love team players, not those who are “extra” and focused on themselves.

This week’s Torah portion alludes to the concept of being “extra,” although in a completely different sphere. In Parashat Nitsavim, we are told: “But the word (of the Torah) is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.” We don’t have to try hard to fulfill the words of the Torah. The Torah is close to us and natural to us (in our hearts and mouths) and we don’t have to exert ourselves unnecessarily to fulfill what should be natural to us. Rabbi Eliezer Papo, an 18th century leader of the Bosnian and Bulgarian Jewish Communities, wrote that this verse comes to teach us about the practice of “Yuhara.”  “Yuhara” is the Rabbinic term for being “religiously” extra. It describes the practice of individuals taking on extra religious observances in excess of what is prescribed to them by law. In his book Pele Yoez, Rabbi Papo wrote the following about “Yuhara:” “If you wish to adopt a practice which the law does not require, observe it privately. This is especially true of a person who is not stringent in all his activities…God knows a person’s heart. If one acts piously in secret, God will judge him favorably. Even a person known to be pious should not perform acts of excessive piety which the leaders of the generation do not do. People will say, ‘This person, who acts more strictly than our sages and saints, is pretentious!’ ”

In communities, nations and even on teams, the tension between individuals and communities is always present. It is natural for one to want to differentiate themselves from the community they find themselves in. However, we must always be mindful of ways in which we differentiate ourselves that come off as “extra.” We should heed the words of R. Papo and ensure that we don’t overcompensate in the public sphere for what we lack in the private sphere.

Adam Eilath

In this week’s Torah Portion, Ki Tavo, the Israelites are told of the blessings they will receive if they follow the Torah and the curses they will be subject to if they do not follow the laws of the Torah. Among the blessings is one that has received a fair amount of attention from commentators, “You shall be blessed in the city, and you shall be blessed in the field” (ברוך אתה בעיר ברוך אתה בשדה). The Ben Ish Chai, a 19th century Rabbi from Baghdad explained this blessing in the following way:

There are times when a person has two opposing items in one subject. A person might have wheat stored in a city warehouse to be sold and, at the same time, he might have wheat growing in the fields. If he was to request from God lots of rain for his fields, he runs the risk that the stored grains will become bad from the worms and moreover, since all the crops will be increased, the price of wheat will fall and he will lose when he sells his stored grain. On the other hand, if he was to pray that there should be no rain so that he can get a good price for his stored grain, he runs the risk that his fields will dry up and the amount of produce will be less than expected. Here, with this blessing, God will make changes so that this person will win on both accounts; from his stored grains and from the produce in his fields. In other words, this person will be blessed in the city where his grain is stored and in the fields as well.

When I read this commentary, I couldn’t help but think about the situation we currently find ourselves in. We are in a unique moment in history when we have been forced into our homes and the boundaries between our workplaces, our schools, and our personal lives have been blurred. I’ve heard from many parents about their longing for a reinstatement of these boundaries, they want their children to go back to school and they want to be able to go back to their offices. At the same time, I’ve heard from so many parents about the blessings of these times. I’ve heard about the special bond that has been formed between siblings. I’ve heard about the newfound respect and responsibility students have taken on for their homes.

Prior to March, the conventional wisdom was that in order to be effective employees we need to be in the office. And, in order to be effective parents we need to be at home. In order to be effective students we need to be at school, and in order to have a healthy relationship between students and parents we need kids to spend time with their parents outside of school. This virus has blurred these boundaries and challenged those assumptions. Many employers have renewed their humanity in seeing their complete employee, a parent, a caregiver who has many responsibilities in addition to their work. Parents have developed a newfound appreciation for teaching craft as they support their students in remote learning. Children and parents have found ways to build new relationships and spending so much time together has fostered new dimensions to our relationships.

This year, when we recite the blessing “You shall be blessed in the city and you shall be blessed in the field,” there is a new dimension to our understanding of the verse. We want this virus to end, we want things to go back to normal, and we want our students learning on campus. And yet, we don’t want that blessing to come at the expense of all the ways we have grown and learned to appreciate one another over the past few months. At the same time, we don’t want to appreciate these times so much that we forget the importance of returning to school and restoring a sense of normalcy.

As we approach the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, and we think about what the coming year will hold, I want to offer this original blessing to you all that I have crafted in the spirit of this reflection.

May it be Your will, God, Master of the Universe, that health be granted speedily to our communities and our world and that the pain and damage of this virus be eradicated from the face of the earth. May it also be Your will that we not forget all the ways in which we have grown while this virus has plagued our world. That we not lose the empathy we have developed for one another and the humanity we have seen from one another. Amen.

Adam Eilath

Dear Wornick Community,

In the closing exercises of the Tzedakah presentation, I heard our 7th grade students repeat the biblical commandment over and over again, "Lo ta'amod al dam re'echa" (you shall not stand idly by while the blood of your neighbor is spilled). In hearing those words, I could have never imagined how real that commandment would be in these moments. On behalf of Wornick, I want to share and acknowledge our communal heartbreak, pain, sadness, and anger over the death of George Floyd last week. This is the most recent death in a long history of hundreds of years of violence perpetrated against the Black community in this country. I also want to share my deep mourning for the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, two more heartbreaking examples where violence was committed against members of the Black community. In one of the first pages of the Babylonian Talmud our Rabbis articulate a powerful expression of equality. In reflecting on differences between people of different backgrounds and socioeconomic classes they write, "I am a creation, and they are a creation." There is so much work for us to do until we are able to say that all of the creations of God are treated equally.

As a multi-racial Jewish community, we know that anti-Black racism and violence is happening all the time, not just when someone captures it on video. We know, unfortunately, that so many members of our community have had experiences with such injustice. We stand in solidarity with our Black students and families and commit ourselves in the fight against racism and oppression in America. 

Our school's mission is to develop leaders who are committed to a life steeped in Jewish ethics and values. Over the course of this summer we must rise to the occasion and each of us in our own way, ensure that we are living up to the value of "Lo ta'amod al dam re'echa." We cannot stand idly by while the blood of members of our community is being spilled. 

In this week's Torah portion, Nasso, we learn about the Nazirites who took purity vows that required them to abstain from things like drinking alcohol, having sexual relations, eating meat, coming into contact with dead bodies or cutting their hair. At a Bat Mitzvah a few years ago, I heard a powerful critique of a Nazirite that is particularly relevant today. One can imagine what motivated a Nazirite to abstain from a life of impurity. They likely looked around and saw corruption, temptation, or sin. But by abstaining from all of these things, the Nazirite didn't actually do anything. He didn't change the behaviors he disliked, he didn't change society around him, he only isolated himself from the rest of the community. In these moments, we must not be like the Nazirite. We cannot define ourselves exclusively by what we are not, or by the behaviors and actions that we abhor. We must each find our own ways to affect change and not be satisfied with our rejection or disgust at the senseless loss of life in the Black community. 

A student sent me a question today asking about the Jewish perspective on looting and violence. On the one hand, the perspective on Jewish law as expressed in the Shulchan Arukh, is that one must not damage property in pursuit of their goals. On the other hand, I feel that in these moments, we are required to listen deeply and careful to voices from within the Black community. Many of our country's deepest and most vulnerable wounds are exposed in these moments, and it is important to be humble and listen with open hearts and minds.

A natural starting point for many families, especially those with young children are conversations at home.  Here are some resources that we hope will be helpful to you: 

If you are able to give towards causes that promote racial equity and justice, a natural outcome of your conversations might be deciding on what particular cause to give to. You might also decide to write cards or engage in outreach towards members of the Black community who have been victims of violence and racism.

I want to end with a reflection from over a year and a half ago when the Jewish community suffered during the anti-semitic attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway. In Oakland, where I live, my synagogue immediately felt the outreach and warmth from local community organizations and in particular, Black churches in our community. Please consider reaching out to local Black communities. Words of comfort, empathy, and care, have real power in these moments.

In partnership, health and peace,
Adam Eilath

Mission Statement

Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School develops students who are socially and academically prepared to meet their full potential as engaged leaders committed to a life steeped in Jewish ethics and values.

About Wornick

Enrollment: 192
Grades: TK-8
Average Class Size: 14
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