Welcome and welcome back to Richmond Jewish Day School, for another wonderful year of learning, friendships and discovery. We are so excited to announce that we have had one of our largest registration intakes ever, which means that:
- There are 30 new students at RJDS
- 1 out of 3 students is brand new to the school
- Total enrolment is up by 10%
- We have our largest kindergarten class in a long time – 18 students
Not only are so many new families joining the school, but we are keeping our existing families – student retention is at 96% for two years running. I really want to thank you, our families and friends – you are our best ambassadors, and a key reason why word-of-mouth about the school is so positive. I am thrilled to be a part of such a special school and community.
To that end, we had our Welcome Back Barbecue last night. Old faces, new faces, parents, grandparents, teachers and students all gathered together to welcome in the new school year and make new connections and friendships. It was a great evening coordinated by Michele Tetford and the PAC, and the evening ran smoothly, even with the much larger crowd.
As I moved around the courtyard and met with parents and students and friends, I couldn’t help but reflect on the summer that we all went through and how what we are trying to do in Jewish education is so critical as a response to it all.
This has been such a hard summer for so many, and a summer that left many of us with a lot of doubt, a lot of questions and a lot of fear. Here at home, the teachers strike dragged on, with no end in sight, and we are began to hear reports of teachers having to use food banks to feed their families because they are running out of money (for a brutally honest look at the some of the issues teachers are striking about, click here). Further afield, the crisis in Ukraine continued to grow, jihadist ISIS rampaged across the Middle East, and of course, the 50 day war in Israel. The war in Israel began even before the end of last school year, with the kidnapping and murder of the three boys and the subsequent rocket attacks from Gaza.
Like so many people, I was glued to the war. My phone buzzed non-stop with Red Alerts whenever rockets flew out of Gaza, I followed every detail obsessively, I read everything I could, from every angle, and it all became too much. I had a hard time sleeping. I had an even harder time praying. The realities of life in Israel, viewed from afar, and also being aware of just how many of my family (along with so many close relatives of the families in our school) were trying to live a normal life in Israel, but unable to do so, was really hard to deal with. The truth is, I felt stressed, I felt depressed, I felt a thousand miles away from God. So many people I talked to were in the same state – and we were the ones thousands of miles away living here, not our brothers and sisters having to live through it in Israel!
Seventy-four of the Torah’s 613 commandments (mitzvot) are in this week’s parsha (Torah portion) of Ki Teitzei. At the very end of the parsha, Ki Teitzei concludes with the obligation to remember “what Amalek did to you on the road, on your way out of Egypt… How he met you by the way (Dvarim 25:17-18)”
[The Hebrew word, karchah, “he met you,” can also mean “he cooled you”; and the Midrash says:]
What is the incident (of Amalek) comparable to? To a boiling tub of water which no creature was able to enter. Along came one evil-doer and jumped into it. Although he was burned, he cooled it for the others. So, too, when Israel came out of Egypt, and G-d split the sea before them and drowned the Egyptians within it, their fear fell upon all the nations. But when Amalek came and challenged them, although he received his due from them, he cooled the awe in which they were held by the nations of the world.
Amalek, the tribe which attacked us (it was a rear attack, hitting the young and the elderly,) when we were at our highest point, when God showed us all His miracles in saving us from Egypt, when we were at such a confident point and sure of Hashem’s role in this world, this tribe Amalek, they made us lose that confidence, develop doubts, and cooled off our relationship with God. Just like that, we were vulnerable, unsure of ourselves, and afraid. Those of you who know this story in the Torah knows how it ends – with the dramatic image of Moshe (Moses) Rabbeinu raising his hands toward Heaven, for the duration of the battle against Amalek, inspiring the Jews with that symbol, and ultimately defeating Amalek.
It’s 2014. Moshe is long gone; we don’t have his hands raised to Heaven to inspire us, to heat us up, to make us believe. Who do we turn too when we are afraid, when we worry for the future of our kids, and wonder what type of world will await them when we are long gone? What do we look to to inspire us in the dark moments of our nation’s life?
The answer was in what I felt and saw last evening at the Welcome Back Barbecue. It’s us, Am Yisrael, the People of Israel. It’s always been us. No one else can do it for us. It’s on us to persevere and to believe, to bring the light into this world and share it with others. I can say with complete confidence that being able to turn to each other for support helps us along that path towards the light, and lifts our spirit. Learning about who we are as a people, about our faith and beliefs, about our history, and about our connection to the Land of Israel is paramount for being able to balance out the story the world prefers to tell about Israel. No one else can do this for us.
Knowledge is power. Community is life. That is the job of Jewish Day School.
Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach.