The Spirit of Education: A Message for the Start of School

 Posted by on August 12, 2014 at 9:46 am  4 Responses »  Categories:
Aug 122014
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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?

  • Barbara Gereboff

    I’m with you. This summer, I’ve experienced every emotion – fear, anger, hurt – as I continue to watch violence and simplistic rhetoric breaking out everywhere. The familiar Rabbinic phrase – Lo Alecha…the work is not yours alone to complete, but neither are you free to desist from it – resonates now more than ever. I too can’t wait to welcome our students this year and to know that our work of educating is the most powerful response to this chaos.

  • Harry Pell

    Rabbi Lapidus – thank you for expressing in writing much of what I have been thinking. Hatzlacha Rabah to one and all on the beginning of a new school year – may it bring the promised potential of change for the future of which Micah speaks.

  • Dan Finkel

    Hi Micah,

    Thank for writing this – it is helpful to hear others expressing much of what I have been worried about all summer, and also to channel emotion into the holy work of educating children.

  • HaMorah Sarah

    These are such challenging and stressful times and, yes, our hearts break when we listen to the news. Your comments expressed so well our mixed emotions and feelings. Having been in Israel this summer, I learned quickly to stay glued to the “Breaking News” stories online and on TV. The only consolation, I receive is when I am planning “Israel Events” with an eye towards educating for better understanding. For the beginning of school, we are planning a “Stand With Israel” rally and plan to send packages to the students in Netivot (our sister city in Israel. We will also skype with some of our former students now serving in the IDF. “Standing with Israel” is sacred work — so let the school year begin and thank-you for your articulate article.