When I trained as a social worker back in the late nineties, one of the terms I learnt was what was called the doorknob conversation. In a therapy session, the doorknob conversation is the one where the client or patient gets up after the session, and on the way out, hands on the doorknob, opens up and reveals a deeper and more insightful truth or admission than at any point during the session.
This is my doorknob conversation with you.
Today is my last day as your Principal at Richmond Jewish Day School, and my last day in Vancouver before I head back to Montreal. The sense of loss I feel at leaving you, coupled with losing my father only a few weeks ago, is deep and profound. This was my home away from home for seven beautiful years, and leaving family is never easy. And you were my family – make no mistake about it. Richmond Jewish Day School is where I discovered my passion and my calling, where I would come home at the end of the day on fire from teaching. Richmond Jewish Day School is the place where we transformed a school into a community for all, a place where families trusted us to bring out the best in their children, a place where we could begin to learn that “Israel are the children of prophets” (Pesachim 66a), and that those sparks of prophecy are in all of us, waiting to be fanned into flames.
To the Board of Directors, past and present, whom I have had the good fortune to work for and with, you give expression to the tefilla we say on Shabbat before Musaf: “…vchol mi sheoskim betzorchei tzibur be’emunah, and all those who occupy themselves faithfully with community affairs…” Read differently, it means “all those who occupy themselves with community affairs… with faith”. And faith in the school and its mission is what guides you in the work you do on behalf of the school. Thank you for your belief in me, in giving me the chance to lead the school. I owe you my career. I particularly want to acknowledge Ronit Berger and Evan Rubin, the Co-Presidents of the Board, for their friendship, and their support, and their consistent basic decency and mentschlichkeit at all times.
To the teachers, administration and staff of RJDS, thank you for putting up with me and my terrible jokes all these years. Thank you for being with me in the good times and the not so good times. I was honoured to be your colleague and friend, I was proud to serve in the trenches with you, and I am still in awe of what you do day in and day out. If I can share something as a leave behind, it’s the following two teachings from the Talmud, both quite opposite from the other, but when taken together contain the roadmap to how we have to continue to operate:
The Talmud (Shabbat 30:2) relates the story that “Rabbah, before he began teaching the rabbis, would tell a joke. The rabbis would laugh. Then he would sit down and in a state of awe would begin the days lesson.” And in tractate Moed Katan (17a), it says that “If your teacher resembles one of God’s angelic hosts, you can learn from him or her.” The first teaches us to do what we do with joy and laughter and a smile, the second to understand just how important we can be in the life of a child. Hold both of those in your hearts, and our school will flourish for years to come.
To the parents and families, thank you for letting us be your partners. Thank you for giving your time and your energy and your money to make this school a better place. I am grateful for the wonderful friendships that I made with so many of you, it was one of the high points in my time with the school and the community. And yes, sometimes I had to say or share things that were hard or painful to hear, and I know that I hurt some of you in the course of trying to do right by your children and the school. It is before Yom Kippur, and I want to ask you for mechila, for forgiveness.
Finally, to my students, to my beautiful students… I learned how to be a better teacher and principal because of you. We davened together, we laughed together, we learned together, we went on Shabbatonim together. We celebrated holidays together, played basketball together, and made Pesach seders together. I cut the line in front of you to get more fake tattoos during our yearly Purim carnivals. I stole your food on the playground and ate it. I put your baby carrots that your parents gave you for healthy snacks, but you never ate, up my nose, to gross you out. I did morning announcements over the PA system on Purim after sucking down helium, to make you kids laugh. I climbed the roof of the school and nailed you with ginormous water balloons (and sometimes you even got me too!). And through it all, your neshamot shone through, clear and strong, and you inspired me every day with your good nature, your capacity for resilience, and your hard work. I will miss you kids – a lot!
I want to end by quoting from the first chapter of the Piacezner Rebbe’s beautiful sefer, Chovat HaTalmidim (A Students Obligation: Advice from the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto). It is these words that have inspired me the most over the years, and have given me, and I hope give all of us, the proper focus as to why we do what we do for the sake of Jewish education and our children:
“Child of Israel, you are fortunate and blessed. You have merited to study Torah, which shines with divine radiance. You are God’s delight; He tenderly loves you. The angelic beings who inhabit the higher spiritual dimensions envy you and recognize your preciousness. Your existence is a source of wonderment for divine seraphim: they honour you. The heavens and all celestial beings, the earth and everything that fills it, rejoice in you and are ready to bend according to your will. The whole universe resounds with the question: Who is this child from whose mouth pillars of fire shoot forth, whom the most high and exalted God, Who is constantly surrounded by multitudes of His host, looks at as His pride and joy?”