As we think about the events of this summer and the beginning of the coming school year, Micah Lapidus here presents an inspiring call to action regarding the power of education. The post is cross-posted from his blog, Rabbi’s Pen. Rabbi Lapidus is rabbi and Director of Jewish and Hebrew Studies at The Alfred and Adele Davis Academy in Atlanta. He is an alum of the Day School Leadership Training Institute (DSLTI).
By: Rabbi Micah Lapidus
In the weeks and month ahead ALL OF US will be GOING BACK TO SCHOOL. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been happier.
Speaking personally, it’s been an amazing and impossible summer. It’s been a summer full of contradictions. A summer full of new personal and professional relationships and profound learning, and a summer of penetrating fear and anxiety as I look at the world around me.
Are you anxious and uncertain too? I’ll never forget a bumper sticker I used to see every day on my way to work. It read, “If you’re not completely outraged then you’re not paying attention.” I guess I’m anxious, uncertain, and OUTRAGED.
When I get anxious I tend to bite my nails. It’s a bad habit. This summer I’ve been doing it a lot.
When I get outraged I tend to get motivated. That’s a good habit.
The wonderful learning and connecting that I’ve personally experienced has been set against a backdrop of violence, pain, and fear. I saw a tweet that summed it up perfectly: “This summer’s events brought to you by the producers of 24.”
I’m a rabbi. I work in a Jewish Day School. This summer my heart broke when the Israeli government found the bodies of 3 murdered Jewish teens. It shattered days later when they found the charred remains of an innocent Arab teen murdered in retaliation. And shattered it remained as the names of countless innocent men, women, and children were added to the lists of the dead not only in Israel and Gaza, but around the world. The Talmud teaches that the world is sustained by the breath of schoolchildren. It feels a bit like the world is hanging on by a thread.
As a Jew and person of conscience I’m struggling to pick up the pieces. The undeniable surge in anti-semitism, the abhorrent level of the discourse on social media and “real” media, the rampant xenophobia in the US and around the world, the angry mobs with no recourse but to take to the streets, the fact that people were surprised that the World Cup concluded without a terrorist attack… These things scare me and leave me feeling outraged. I sense the uncomfortable merging of despair, rage, and ignorance rolling down like water.
As a father, partner, and child I’m struggling to pick up the pieces too. For the first time I’m sensitive to the reality that my parents and grandparents aren’t sure about the world they’re entrusting to me. I don’t think that they feel like the world is a better place than it was when they emerged into adulthood. I think that makes them anxious and uncertain and it contributes to my nail biting. I’m outraged by the fact that my wife and I have even had to discuss whether we want our toddler and infant to have passports of their own in case we one day no longer feel welcome in the U.S.
So as a rabbi, a Jew, a human being, a child, a parent, and a partner I’m deeply troubled. I’m anxious, uncertain, and outraged.
What about as an educator?
As an educator I’m renewed in my sense of purpose and I’m ready to get to work.
As an educator I believe that I’m participating in one of the most powerfully redemptive undertakings there is: building lives.
As an educator I’m optimistic because I’m making plans for the future, including plans to travel to Israel with a group of 8th grade students next summer.
As an educator I’m driven to make sure that the world I leave to my students is better than the world that currently awaits them.
As an educator I’m comforted in knowing that I have the capacity, along with all my fellow educators, to help uncover the empathy, imagination, drive, creativity, and humanity in my students.
As an educator I’m emboldened to the point of righteous indignation because I know that I’m part of the solution, that I hold the hope, and that the work is constantly unfolding.
Usually the end of summer brings a bit of ambivalence on my part. I love my work and I love my school community but I also like flip flops and shorts. Sadly these two realities haven’t yet merged. But there’s no ambivalence this year.
I’m ready for this summer to be over so I can resume the sacred work of changing the headlines for today and tomorrow.
Who is with me?