Head of School, Adam Eilath, reflects on the questions we face and where we are going, during this challenging time in our history.
This week, Head of School Adam Eilath recorded a video message for our community that reflects on how difficult it is to be physically apart from each other, but also how grateful he is for the strength of our community.
This week I recorded a video of a Jewish custom from my family's tradition that will take place this weekend. On Rosh Hodesh, the first day of Nisan, the Jewish month during which we celebrate Passover, Jews from Tunisia and Libya partake in a ritual called “Bsisa” or “El Bsisa.” The ritual is centered around a dish called the “Bsisa” which is made in a deep bowl and is filled wheat, barley, dried fruits, honey, olive oil and other sweets.
Tunisian Bsisa (Source: Wikipedia)
As we look towards the next academic year, we are currently in the process of hiring educators to join our outstanding team of educators. This year we took a close look at our hiring process and developed a system that includes meeting with a team of educators who are not administrators, observing classes, and ensuring that we have time to reflect on the model lesson with the candidate. We are especially proud that we have added a middle school “hiring committee” comprised of representatives from each middle school grade. These students have volunteered numerous hours of their lunch period to sit down with prospective teachers, ask them questions and provide feedback to the professional hiring committee on their perception of the candidates.
The student hiring committee has been a remarkable addition to our hiring process. It has been a wonderful opportunity for students to develop their voice, confidence and sense of ownership over our community. Even if the teacher is not applying for a middle school position, our students feel responsible for making the “right hire” for their lower school peers.
What has been most amazing to me has been the perspective students provide. Our students ask completely different questions of candidates than our teachers. They are keenly focused on the classroom experience and ask questions that dive deep into teaching practices in a way I have not observed teachers do. They also bring out a different side of candidates, and allow us to see prospective teachers in a whole new light.
In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, we learn about the building of the Mishkan (The Tabernacle). One of the more unique features of the Mishkan, is a table upon which the Lechem Hapanim, twelve loaves of bread, would be placed. These loaves would be changed out every week before Shabbat and would be arranged in two rows.
The name of these loaves of bread, Lechem Hapanim, is unique and can literally be translated to be “The breads of the face.” The Hasidic Rabbi, Avraham Mordechai of Gur wrote: “Each person who looked at the bread could see an image of his or her own face! A pious, kind and faithful person would see the bread as being fresh and warm. A cynical, mean and skeptical person would see the bread as being stale and cold. The “lehem hapanim” reflected the face—and the inner being—of the observer. The bread was the same bread: but the experience of the bread varied according to the personality of the person who observed it.” (Paraphrased by Rabbi Marc Angel).
As I think about our process of inviting new members to join our professional community, I am aware of the unique perspective that students offer us. When we invite students into the process we allow their “faces,” opinions, perspectives and beliefs to be reflected in our school more deeply. May we all find ways to invite student voices into our own homes and lives on a more frequent basis.
Last month I read a tremendous book, “The Obligated Self” by Mara Benjamin, a professor of Talmud and Jewish Thought at Mount Holyoke College. The book argues that by examining our sense of obligation to our children we can learn a great deal about what it means to be obligated to God. Benjamin argues that the modern Western phenomena that binds these two concepts together is that for the first time in history, becoming a parent is largely a choice as is the decision to feel a sense of obligation towards God.
In this week’s Torah Portion, we witness the Israelites beginning to accept not only a relationship to God but a set of rules and principles. God tells the Israelites: “If you obey my commandments faithfully and keep my covenant, you shall be my cherished possessions.” A few verses later the Israelites answer: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.”
In Benjamin’s book, she discusses the obligation she felt during her early years of being a new parent and writes:
These shifts in my relationship to time, the material world, and my own autonomy comprised the becoming of an obligated self, a self radically bound up with someone else. In my child I recognized the one person for whom, I felt I could not walk away. In rational moments, I recognized this to be untrue: parents of small children can and do free themselves from the obligations of daily care and other substantive involvement by de facto relinquishing the claim to parenthood. I knew that. Yet I found it unthinkable that I would refuse the role into which my new child had, by the fact of her existence, suddenly put me. She exerted a gravitational pull, and my role was now to orbit her.
To be an obligated self was to be subject to the law of another; the Law of The Baby. The law could not be fulfilled in abstract but only in active, embodied, material actions: soothing, feeding, cleaning, comforting, distracting, smiling and wiping…
Nonetheless, I could not agree to the law before I was already subject to it. And once in place, I could only violate the law through inattention or frustration. I could not cast it off. I transgressed the law as often as I fulfilled it, leaving my crying baby or comfort seeking toddler to calm herself when I could not bring myself to respond. Nonetheless it was clear to me that there was a law, and the law applied to me by virtue of being my child’s parent.
The narrative of parental obligation resonates with me deeply. On the other hand, I cannot imagine being an Israelite and accepting the totality of the Jewish commandments from God based on the promise of being “a cherished possession.”
I witness parents at this school express their obligation to their children and teenagers on a constant basis. It’s reflected in the choices that parents make guide, feed, to nourish, to support, to comfort, and to discipline. Parents feel this obligation and as Benjamin writes, they “feel subjected to the law of another” and they can choose to transgress or accept that law.
Traditional religious archetypes often portray God in patriarchal and occasionally matriarchal language. I want to offer a reframe of the covenantal language from this week’s Torah portion based on Benjamin’s suggestions. Resetting God’s voice as a child’s voice, inviting us to enter into a relationship of obligation with us is beautiful. It is our children who come into the world and tell us, “If you ...listen to my voice and keep a covenant of respect and values as my parent, then you will be a cherished soul in this world.” When we hear our children calling out to us, undoubtedly we will answer as the Israelites did, “All that you have spoken to us, we will do.”