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Music Row and the Maccabees: Building Grit, Patience, and Pride in our Generation

Posted by: Guest

December 2, 2013

This post continues our Chanukah series exploring the idea that: “Jews stand for light in the darkness, and every Jew can rekindle the flame of another.” We are pleased to feature a range of respondents discussing how this concept “illuminates” their perspectives and work. Visit here to read the introduction to this series – and share your favorite educational practice that lights Jewish “sparks” in the next generation!
By: Daniella Pressner
Akiva PC 2The week before Chanukah, I found myself outside William’s Violin Shop, on Music Row in Nashville.  I had just finished a long marketing meeting for our school and ventured a few doors down to pick up an item for a young violin student.  As I walked into the shop, I was overcome by the sound of the violin.  I chuckled at the novelty of this door chime, while wondering where the sound originated.  I was in a rush to make it home before Shabbat so quickly picked up what I needed and paid for it.
I stepped out onto Nashville’s famed Music Row, a historic street that houses leading record labels, publishing houses, and recording studios.  Droves of musicians, singers, and writers come to these few blocks to pursue their dreams.  And few come just once, as they know that those who make it in the music industry rarely have one break-through event.  Aspiring stars come to drop off a demo, come again to introduce themselves, come again to run into a “connection,” come again to drop off the second demo, and come again to check in on the status of the first demo.
Thinking about this, I was struck by a sense of awe and wonder at these musicians’ grit and patience and pride. I wondered…
What if our schools could create hallways that felt like historic Music Row?  How can our schools raise Jewish children with an unwavering and intense pride in themselves and in those who stood before them? How can we foster a culture that urges children to see themselves as dreamers and creators, and artists and intellectuals?  How can we encourage experimentation and failure, courage and perseverance? How can we help children remain proud of even the smallest victories towards greater goals?
As I stood there on Nashville’s Music Row, I thought of the Maccabees. In the Talmud, there is a debate as to why we light the Chanukah lights.  In his commentary on Tractate Shabbat, Rabbeinu Asher asks how we view the Chanukah candles.  While we normally think of candles as illuminators, the fact that the Gemara specifically asks us to position the chanukiah in a low place demonstrates that the candles are not meant for illumination.  Rather, they serve as symbols of the miracles, wonders, salvations, and wars that God bestowed upon us (as we proclaim in HaNerot Hallalu), and our obligation to offer praise and thanksgiving to God.  I am surprised at how quickly we forget about the agents in this miracle—the Maccabees—during our ritual lighting.  Perhaps their power is minimized because God is the ultimate hero in this story. But this is the stuff that the juiciest stories are made of: the weak and few against the mighty and many.
As I reflected on the Maccabees, I realized that helping our children find a deep sense of pride and purpose in their history depends on how we teach our history.  When we light the Chanukah candles, do we retell the story of the Maccabees or do we only retell God’s hand in that victory?  When we tell the story of the Maccabees, do we share only the stories of the brave Judah who stands up against Antiochus or do we also share about those who were scared and overcame this fear?
How we retell history impacts how our children dream.  How we retell history influences whether or not our children become icons of grit and patience, and pride.
When the Greeks defile the Temple, the Jews’ first task is to rekindle the Menorah.  The story begins with the absence of the Temple light and ends with a gradual rekindling of this light. There were seven stems on the Temple’s menorah, which could symbolize the Seven Days of Creation.  On the first day, God chooses to create light.  As God creates each day, there are days in which God praises the work (VaYehi Tov), others in which it is praised in the highest regard (VaYehi Tov Meod), and another in which absolutely nothing is said.  We have to be able to teach our children that there will be days in which great praise will come our way, and other days of sincere encouragement, and perhaps even some days where intrinsic motivation will be the only force propelling us forward.  But the beauty in the Creation story is that God does not stop after the first bad day, or even after the very good day.  We learn that, once created, light serves as the force to continue creating, activating, and reactivating after it is extinguished. Perhaps the miracle was that the light continued to grow as a symbol of the Maccabees’ unwavering dedication to their vision for a brighter future.  Even the smallest light was a victory worth celebrating.
This is the energy that is felt on Music Row.  You stand on a street that has historical vigor because of the people who have walked there before you.  You stand on a street that has vitality because of the intense pride in its people and their accomplishments.  You stand on a street that represents risks, and disappointments, and failures.  You dream on this street because you know that so many dreams have taken place before you, and you sense that you are part of something greater.
Upon leaving the violin shop, I looked up and realized that what I had thought was a chime was an actual violin propped on the lintel that each visitor activates upon entering.  By opening the door, I, too, was playing the violin and metaphorically taking a more active role in history.
When we light the Chanukah candles this year with our school, I will be thinking of my moment on Music Row.  I will be pondering how we retell Jewish history.  And while we praise and thank God for the miracles and the salvation, this year, I will be adding a tradition.  I will ask our children to share the story of the Maccabees and how they served as powerful agents for change.  And after that, I will ask our children to share their own stories of grit, and patience, and pride.
As I watch the candles slowly dim, alongside my son as he practices the violin, I will be reminded of the epic charge to help all of our children find grit, patience, and unwavering pride in the profound history on OUR Music Row.
Daniella Pressner is Principal of the Akiva School in Nashville, TN.

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