The Head of School Eclipse Blog: Awe, speech, and the new school year
The school year is about to commence, and the entire USA will be able to view, in some form, a phenomenon that rarely happens in any one lifetime.
This eclipse, if we open ourselves to it, will inspire awe in people of every age and kind. If we are truly present we may experience something that stirs deep connections and feelings. Writer Kira Newman, in a recent post on eclipse viewing, described the vastness of awe, the sense of significance as part of the world one feels, and the sense of significance one may feel about oneself. She described it as similar to what a person feels about life when one loses someone close, but without the loss, only with appreciation.
Looking through a Jewish lens, as I often do as head of a Jewish day school, I note that our ancestors feared eclipses, and assigned no blessings to the experience. Today, realizing there is no danger, but there is opportunity, people have created their own or plan to recite “general” blessings such as “Baruch atah Adonai, oseh ma’aseh vreshit” Blessed are you, Adonai, who makes the work of creation.
One can always recite the shehecheyanu prayer, thanking God for reaching this special moment and season. Likewise, we say the shehecheyanu on the first day of school together in our sanctuary with the students. Along with school supplies, protocols and schedules, we share the sense of awe and gratitude for reaching this special day and for its meaning.
This year, especially when our country is experiencing alarming events, and when some of our leaders refuse to name and denounce racism, anti-Semitism, and hate speech, it is even more essential that we resolve to teach our children well. We teach them to be kind, to be compassionate, and to be part of tikkun olam, repairing the world. This is part of the mission of our school and many others across the country, and it must be lived.
As adults in school communities, every one of us—parent, trustee, or educator—must show the way. Every time we criticize, label or judge someone inside or outside of our community, it diminishes us. It sends our children the wrong message. There is no room for loving the world as an ideal but belittling our neighbor or assuming negative intent. None of us are perfect; I know I am not. This season of awe I rededicate myself to refraining from lashon hara (evil speech) and to stopping it when I hear it. As the rabbis say, even if a story is true, one must refrain from gossip and from spreading it.
Monday, as we view the miracle of nature, and next week, as we welcome our beloved students back to school, please join me in this rededication. Let’s share our sense of wonder, our love of life, and model for our children what a person can be and become.