These past few weeks, I spent some time thinking about the meaning of the word “new.” We wish people a happy New Year and the word “new” kept popping back into my head. The word “new” has two main meanings: Something new could be something never before in existence. Alternatively, something new could also be a fresh look or innovative take on an older idea. One of the most critical values I think we provide our children with is the ability to see something from multiple perspectives. Wisdom, in many ways, is this ability to use the schema we have acquired over time and apply it to a current question or problem of practice. We build wisdom in our children by exposing them to multiple opportunities. But we also ask our children to reflect on their learning and apply it in new ways. Two events these past two weeks vividly demonstrate how we help our children gain the ability to understand the idea that something new is not always something that has come from nothing…rather something that emerges from an ancient tradition and is renewed in the value and meaning that we bring to it by connecting it to ourselves.
Last week, Alex Leff, the Senior Director at the GJCC, came to collect notes that our children wrote to the seniors in our community in honor of Senior Citizens Day. The generosity and fresh spirit that came from these notes was sweet and delightful. When the notes were shared with Alex and a representative from the senior community, there were smiles and tears as the notes reflected the purity of their hearts.
Below are some excerpts from our children’s letters:
“Dear Senior Citizen. Thank you for bringing love and kindness into this world. You make this world a better place. I hope you have a long and wonderful life.” -2nd grader
“Dear Senior Citizen, I can’t even imagine all of the great things you must have done. I can’t wait to meet you soon.” -6th grader
“Dear Senior Citizen, I hope you live old enough so that when I get to be a Senior Citizen, we can meet again!” -4th grader
Together, we provide our children with opportunities to learn from and grow from people other than their teachers and peers. Our children understand the inherent value in our elders, in our traditions, in stories of old…but there is more. They know how to apply these values onto their new experiences and how to live out these values in a fresh, modern, and thoughtful way.
This past week, Rachel Cohen, one of our 6th graders, lost her grandmother, Peggy Cohen z”l. As many of you know, Peggy took care of Rachel like a mother would. The day of the funeral, five 6th graders and seven Akiva faculty members showed up. For almost every Akiva child, it was the first funeral they had ever attended. This was their first time to think through how, as Jews, we honor and remember those we love and how we perform one of the highest mitzvoth, burying those who have died. Every time I turned around, another child was hugging Rachel, talking to her, reassuring her that we would all be there during the tougher moments in the weeks and year to come.
Entering into the Jewish New Year of 5777, I think about how remarkable it is that our children are being raised in a community that teaches them the value of tradition, collective memory, and our elders. I am most proud that our children have experiences that encourage them to renew and refresh their commitments in ways that are meaningful to them and the community around them. There is no greater place to live out these values than Akiva School.
To a year of fresh perspectives and deep traditions. Gmar Chatimah Tova. May we all be written and sealed in the Book of Life,