Sometimes the strangest things stick with you. For me, Marlon Brando says something in his monologue in Apocalypse Now that has never left me: “I remember it, I never want to forget...” That line always stuck with me and I have, on occasion, pondered it.
What is the difference between “always remember” and “never forget?”
Yesterday, we, along with the whole of the Jewish people, observed Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Memorial Day. It is a painful reminder of the darkness that descended upon our world and our people in the not so distant past. The words “never forget” are now inseparable from our thinking about the Shoah. And yet, life goes on. Just this morning I was noticing the pointy bright green shoots that have suddenly broken through the mulch outside our school. The seasons turn, life moves on. Things are beautiful on days they have no right to be.
Likewise, yesterday we had an amazing celebration. HBHA Upper School Principal Todd Clauer, one the most beloved people I have ever met, completed his final chemotherapy treatment for colon cancer. Last night he was able to “Ring the Bell” at his cancer treatment center, signifying the end of his long, arduous journey. I must say here, that Todd has been inspirational - resolute, optimistic, and energetic beyond my wildest expectations. Yesterday afternoon, teachers, Upper School and Middle School students celebrated Todd's achievement by cheering and hollering for him in the hallway at a designated time. A very surprised Todd was able to deliver an impromptu speech that was meaningful and touching.
On the one hand, it felt odd to be celebrating a simcha (joyous occasion) on Yom HaShoah. On the other hand, we must celebrate when we can and never fall prey to pessimism, depression, or fear.
This is the difference between always remembering and never forgetting. If we are to always remember pain and loss, we would never have room to feel joy and celebrate. We would be too busy remembering pain. But to never forget allows us to keep the pain of our history meaningful and important - and also keep it in check. We have room in our hearts and minds for celebration and joy - and we know that that is ok; we will still never forget.
Teaching about the Holocaust is hard. It is one of history's darkest moments, in which we were the primary victims. Focusing too much on that aspect can create a Jewish identity that is “always remembering” - with too much emphasis on survival, defiance, and fear of others. We are building identities that see Judaism as joyous, exciting, and compassionate. This is the tightrope we walk in teaching our students about the Holocaust - yet we know it is our responsibility to do so. We must never forget, and we must too, raise young adults who will never forget, even if they aren’t always remembering.
May you always remember the joys of your life, and never forget the struggles.
HBHA Head of School
Dear HBHA Family,
Are you prepared to see a miracle? Let’s take a test to find out.
This week’s Torah portion is Ki Tisa, and holds one of the darkest moments of the Torah, the building of the Golden Calf. God is so angry, s/he asks Moses if it's OK to kill all of the Israelites and start over with new people, with Moses as its progenitor! Moses convinces God not to ‘annihilate’ them and heads down the mountain with the stone tablets to deal with the blasphemous mess awaiting below. Exodus 32:15 states, “Moses turned and descended from the mountain, with the two Tablets of the Testimony in his hands. Tablets inscribed on both their sides; they were inscribed on one side and the other.”
Did you read a miracle in that? Let me explain!
What does the text mean by Tablets of “Testimony?” Why not Tablets of the Ten Commandments? It is because the way they were inscribed was itself a testimony that they were of divine origin! “Even though they were inscribed straight through the entire tablet, so they showed on both sides of each tablet, the writing was not reversed on either side. The writing was miraculous in another way, for, as the sages teach (Shabbos 104a), the middle of the letter samech and memsofit, remained suspended in midair (Or HaChaim).” (Stone Chumash)
It's one of those lines of Torah that one could easily read over without thinking twice about - but is actually so mystical and magical, it’s impossible to forget!
Isn’t life the same way?
If we can take a moment to stop and observe our miraculous world, how much more grateful and joyous we can be in our day-to-day existence!
I kid you not, one of the most profound religious experiences I ever had was when I first tasted fresh mango. As the tangy sweetness exploded in my mouth, I thought to myself, “There is a God and he wants us to be happy.”
As springtime rolls around, I wish you all your own Tablet of Testimony, or “mango moments,” as I like to think of them. We live in a miraculous world: God loves us, and wants us to be happy. We just need to find the time and headspace to see it!
Shabbat Shalom and enjoy this beautiful weekend,
HBHA Head of School
What a week! Ice storms in Texas and a rover landing on Mars. Ecclesiastes 1:9 states,” What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Some weeks that couldn’t feel more wrong!
But when you look at the news, there are familiar human stories that never change. We humans desire safety, consistency, and security. When our stability is disrupted by fire, or by ice (as it was this week); by flood or by earthquake; we feel pain and we cry out to God for solace and support. Nothing new there!
As long as there are humans, we will explore. We will continue to explore where no person has gone before. There is nothing new in that either.
This is not to say that nothing matters, and we shouldn’t pay attention to the news. Rather, these are the human dramas that are playing out in our lifetime. However, our human experience is not all that different from those who came before us. Despite the internet, space travel, and global warming, little has changed in the landscape of human emotions. We still feel joy and sadness, excitement and boredom, camaraderie and loneliness, humor and anger.
In schools all over the world, children have been watching and learning from the news this week. But in few schools are children able to place what's happening today within a historical context. History, after all, is very abstract. When I was a child, my young perspective made any historical moment seem the same - after all, it happened before I was born. I had a hard time wrapping my head around things outside of my personal experience.
But history is different at a Jewish Day School ... partly because in some sense, Judaism IS history. Some examples:
- Our holidays represent different eras. Passover tells us the story of a time when Egypt was a global superpower; Purim teaches us about Persia; and Chanukah, Greece.
- Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Abarbanel teach us about life in the Middle Ages. Marrano and Converso Jews teach us about the settling of the ‘new world.’
- The advent of Reform and Conservative Judaism teaches us about the European Age of Enlightenment.
- Israel teaches us about the collapse of colonization and the birth of the Modern Era.
Somehow, history is part of our daily lives, in everything we do.
So while we marvel at the new things and events happening every day in our world, at HBHA we know we are giving our children the background and the context to see things in perspective: as part of a universal drama in which they are a crucial part. For we, as people and as Jews, have a critical part to play in the unfolding of this drama - just as we have in the past. For truly, there is nothing new under the sun!
HBHA Head of School
On Wednesday, Kansas City’s Jewish community was honored to have been invited to participate in a conference call with Omer Yankelevich, the Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs. She is virtually visiting cities all over the world, learning about their communities and their institutions. Because there are so many cities, and because she is so busy, it was explained to us that our meeting would not be a conversation, but more of a show-and-tell. The expectation was set: we did not expect to interact with the Minister.
When it was HBHA’s turn to present, I explained that HBHA is unique: Our community has only ONE Jewish day school, which educates the entire microcosm of Jewish kids - from those who are strictly observant to those who consider themselves non-observant, but culturally Jewish.
The minister was overcome with excitement. “This is the dream!” she said. “This is like Israel - everyone working together! Your school should be a model for schools all over the world!”
Needless to say, I couldn't agree more with Ms. Yankelevich!
What exists here should not be taken for granted. Many communities choose to divide their resources, resulting in one Orthodox school and one pluralistic school. Typically these schools are limited to grades K-5 or K-8. Here in Kansas City, we know we are stronger together. Instead of dividing our resources and struggling alone, we have combined them for our greater good.
It’s not always easy to bridge the gaps in our community. It's not easy in Israel and it's not easy here. But we are blessed to be just the right size: large enough to support Jewish education, and small enough to be able to work together. We are in this together, all for one and one for all. We are committed to balancing our communal needs and making compromises so that we can keep our school - and our community - strong. And in the end, we all gain.
One of the highlights of my week is learning together with HBHA faculty member Rabbi Sosover and learning a tractate of Talmud, Bava Metzia to be exact. He and I are so different, and yet so similar. We come from different places and have different world views on many things. But when we study, I profoundly feel our connection, through wrestling over the same texts as our forebears.
The experience is true for our kids too, even though they may not have enough perspective to realize it yet. They are learning first hand that we are all one people. They are becoming immune to painful and divisive stereotypes. And they are participating in peoplehood in a way that is unfortunately very unusual.
This is why the Minister of Diaspora Affairs was so moved. She realized how important - and how unique - schools like ours are. We should never take it for granted!
HBHA Head of School
This is the Super Bowl weekend! I’ve had the chance to reflect on Super Bowls for many of the past years (having moved here from New England).
Sports are fascinating. They give us something to celebrate. They join us in what the sociologist Emile Durkheim describes as “Collective Effervescence,” a concept he used to describe the religious experience in his 1912 book, Elementary Forms of Religious Life. These are the opportunities in which societies come together to share in a common experience and engage in a greater consciousness. A joy of being part of the collective; thus, Collective Effervescence.
So there is, in a sense, something about sports which feels close to a religious experience. And it is simple. Rich or poor, black or white, Christian, Muslim or Jewish, Democrat or Republican, we can bond together in our collective joy of rooting for the home team. Toyota understood this when they created this awesome Super Bowl ad in 2018.
Of course, as Jews, we can see this “all on the same team” message from different angles! We can be a CHIEFS fan or a Buccaneers fan, yet we are all on the same team: the Jewish team. There may be a lot we don't have in common, but we can all pull together to do the best for our people!
Over the years, I’ve visited with all kinds of people in different communities - different countries even - and I am always touched when I hear them reciting Kiddush, or Hamotzi, right alongside me. As a child, these rituals felt like my family’s secret customs. So, to this day, it still fills my heart when I witness others reciting the same ancient words, bowing at the same time as me, or greeting each other the same way, with a “Shabbat Shalom.”
Sports give us a sense of joy (or, if you are from Philadelphia, more often pain), and a sense of being connected to those around us. But being Jewish is a whole different story! Being Jewish means you have teammates all over the world. We are instantly connected by a common language, a common root text, and a common history. Moreso, we are connected by a common future.
The other day, I asked my son to read in Hebrew, which he begrudgingly (in his tween way) did. I cried. My wife, Marni, asked me why I was crying. I told them, “Because I see you succeeding at doing something I always struggled with. I see you with the skills to join our people and be a leader, and because I feel like I’ve done something right.” Then my wife and son cried with me: tears of joy. My son experienced his very own Mahomes moment, as we watched him stepping into a role as a future leader of our Jewish team.
So this Sunday, no matter who wins, remember that beyond the jersey, we are all one team! Go Chiefs and Am Yisrael Chai!
HBHA Head of School
Check out HBHA's Super Bowl Challenge with Hillel Academy Tampa on Facebook!