No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, this was a difficult week for our country, and our democracy. As events unfolded at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, I couldn't help but think about HBHA’s mission statement: To prepare students for fulfilling lives as Jews and as honorable, contributing citizens.
What is a citizen? The 14th Amendment of the Constitution states that, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.”
Most of us are citizens simply because we were born here. And according to the law, we are entitled to certain rights because of our citizenship. We are entitled to protection, and basic economic infrastructure. The political philosopher Thomas Hobbes stated that life without government would be “nasty, brutish, and short.” Governments exist to provide us with a life that is both civilized and long.
But what do we owe? What does it mean to be an honorable and contributing citizen?
At HBHA we believe it is our responsibility to understand and honor our system of government;
- to uphold the highest aspirations of our country - a government that is made “by the people and for the people,” and
- to be informed by truth and make thoughtful and ethical decisions on governance, including our most primal right to self determination - our right to vote.
- This work begins in the classroom. We strive to help our students develop critical thinking skills, so they can form their own opinions. We teach and model civil discourse. We tap into Jewish ethics and traditions to drive home the importance of kavod (respect), tzedek (justice), chesed (caring) and kehillah (community).
Judaism has recognized for centuries that our success rests to a large extent on the success of the country in which we live. We have incorporated various prayers for our country into our liturgy. I would like to quote one such prayer from the Conservative Siddur, Lev Shalem:
“Our God and God of our ancestors, grant to our country the will and wherewithal to fulfill its calling to justice, liberty, and equality. May each of us fulfill our responsibilities of citizenship with care, generosity, and gratitude, ever conscious of the extraordinary blessing of freedom, ever mindful of our duties to one another. Bless those who volunteer to labor on behalf of us all; may they find the strength and courage to complete their tasks and fulfill their dreams. May our judges, elected leaders, and all who hold public office exercise their responsibilities with wisdom, fairness, and justice for all. Fill them with love and kindness, and bless them that they may walk with integrity on the paths of peace and righteousness.”
May all this come to pass, and may we uphold our duties to become "honorable and contributing citizens.”
With warm regards,
HBHA Head of School
Dear HBHA Family,
There is a joke that the synopsis of every Jewish holiday is “They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat!” (Passover, Purim, Chanukah) But the truth is a little more complicated. Sometimes the synopsis is, “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s fast!” (Tisha B’av, The Fast of Esther, and the Fast of Gedalia) But when one looks at Jewish history, it is clear that these moments of crisis are not to be ignored, but to be reflected upon. It is in these moments that Jews take stock of where they are and set the course for the future.
Take for example the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70CE, commemorated during the fast day Tisha B’av. It was a tragedy, but moreso, it was a moment of existential crisis. Judaism had been a religion based on offering sacrifices in the Temple. Without a Temple and the ability to offer sacrifices, Judaism faced an immediate threat of being utterly useless. But in the aftermath of that destruction, Judaism became something much stronger. The rabbis compiled the Mishna and their arguments about the Mishna became the Gemara, the discussion of the Mishhan and Gemara and became the Talmud - the root of all Jewish law. This quick pivot helped Judaism become a mobile civilization - one in which we could practice anywhere in the world without being tied to a Temple in Jerusalem. This rabbinic Judaism is what we still practice today.
Time will tell what COVID-19 means to our world and to Judaism. But as I reflect on the year, the semester and Chanukah, I am thinking about how we adapt to change during our own time of crisis. Have we been adapting quickly and responsibly to the world around us? Have we been able to pivot to new technologies and adapt our mindsets as quickly as we need to?
To be frank, I don’t know. I know that I am very proud of the work our teachers, principals and volunteers have done. And I’m proud of the patience and commitment our families have offered HBHA as we work through this challenging time. I also know that we aren’t done yet. We still have another semester ahead of us, and challenges that lie on the other side of COVID. But in the spirit of Chanukah, I want to let you know that we will continue to fight to be the best school we can be in the face of any and all challenges.
Chanukah is all about adding light during the darkest time of year. I want to let you know that your children are our lights during this challenging time in this school's history. They add joy and happiness to our lives each and every day. Thank you for sharing them with us!
HBHA Head of School
Dear HBHA Family,
As you may have heard, our school has embarked on learning a Midah (virtue) of the Month. This month, we are focusing on gevurah, or courage. When I think about this virtue in the context of our work, our community and our work, I first and foremost think of our teachers, who are so entirely committed to our children's education. As you are probably aware, our plan is to bring students back to campus next week. This is a time when many teachers are nervous to come to school and find themselves surrounded by other students for 8 hours a day. But as Nelson Mandela said, “Courage is not the absence of fear but the triumph over it.”
I have also been reflecting on the passing of Joan March, z”l, who was one of the founders of HBHA. She gave of her time, talent and treasure, along with Carol* and Sidney Deutsch, Bea* and Milton* Firestone, Walter* March, Joan (Puritz) Greenberg* and Carl Puritz, Beryl and Richard Silberg and Blanche and Neil Sosland. These dreamers helped build a school for Kansas City, not knowing if it was going to last or all be for naught. They sent their children to a school that didn’t yet exist. There was no track record, no established curriculum, just an idea and a plan.
It takes special people to create something out of nothing - to build an institution that will outlast them. It takes courage. As Muhammad Ali said, "He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life." Joan and her co-founders most certainly had the courage to build something important and lasting. So, Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy isn’t just an honor to Hyman Brand, but it stands as a living testimony to the courage, vision and effort of Joan and all those who helped create this precious institution. I am honored that I got to know her just a little bit before the pandemic hit.
There are many forms of courage - big and small. I wish for all of us to find the strength to face the challenges in front of us, and the blessing that the fruits of our labors will long outlast us.
HBHA Head of School
*of blessed memory
Dear HBHA Family,
Let’s face it. 2020 has been a stinker. But this month, many of our classes have been focusing on Gratitude, or hoda’ah. I received the most beautiful letters of gratitude from two members of our 3rd grade class, as part of their month-long gratitude project. The goal of the project is to spread a feeling of gratitude not just among their peers, but around the entire school. And it's working: The letters inspired me to pay it forward, and focus on the gratitude I feel right now.
- I am grateful that I and everyone in my immediate family is currently healthy.
- I am grateful that I have a home, a car, food and everything I need to live and thrive.
- I am grateful that I have an education and that I can continue to study and learn.
- I am grateful that I have a job that is interesting, challenging and feels important.
- I am grateful for Judaism, which has given my life greater meaning and direction, and has made me a better person than I naturally am.
- I am grateful to be part of a community of people I care about, and who care about me - both here and around the world.
- I am grateful for America, which accepted my family with open arms generations ago, and has enabled us to live peaceful, happy lives in a diverse community.
- I am grateful for Israel, which gives me a feelings of safety and stability, even while I live half a world away.
- I am grateful for the people I work with, from the faculty and staff, to the board, to the reopening task force, to the PTO, to the leaders of the other Jewish organizations in Kansas City, who are hard-working, innovative, passionate and tenacious.
- I am grateful for the internet which connects us and allows funny people all over the world to make me laugh.
- I am grateful for the parents who have supported me through this difficult time, and for the parents who challenge me to think differently and do better.
- I am grateful for pets that are cute and warm and silly.
- I am grateful for my parents who continue to love and support me, even though I was a very difficult child to raise.
- I am grateful for my children who keep me playful and silly, and who have helped me grow in so many ways.
- I am grateful for my wife who brings the joy to our house, and is eternally patient and forgiving.
- Several years ago, I learned an important lesson from a third grade play: “You don’t express gratitude because you feel happy, you feel happy because you feel gratitude!” Even in the midst of a global pandemic, we have so much to be thankful for. I hope this Thanksgiving you are all able to connect to those feelings of gratitude and to feel the joy and happiness you deserve.
HBHA Head of School
Just three days ago, we made the difficult decision to move the school to remote learning because of the rapid spread of the virus in the community. Since then, the number of cases per 100,000 residents has increased from 608 to 702, and the percent positive has moved from 14.3% to 15.4%. Again, this is the increase over the last three days.
I spent the week at home with my children, and it has not been easy. My first grader is not capable of managing his own schedule. He needs help logging into every Zoom meeting. In one class, for inexplicable reasons, the password doesn’t work and he can’t login. He gets distracted easily and needs to be redirected often. None of this is surprising. He is six.
It’s not surprising, but it is hard for us trying to figure out how to get work done. Dishes go unwashed and laundry unfolded. Some days it feels like we are left to do all our work in the evenings when the kids are asleep.
I tell you all this because I want you to know that as the father of three school age children, I am not making any of these decisions lightly or in a vacuum. I am desperate to get the kids back to school, as I’m sure many of you are.
There is a concept in Judaism called pikuach nefesh which states that the preservation of human life overrides any other religious law. While the law isn’t directly applicable to the running of a school, the principal is the same. In the face of a very real and present danger to the health and life of our students and children, we have to make decisions based on preserving human life. The Talmud asks and answers the following question: “Why was man created alone? Is it not true that the Creator could have created the whole of humanity at one time? But man was created alone to teach us that whoever kills one life it is as if they killed the entire world, but whoever saves one life, it is as if they saved the entire world.”
Since I have been honest about my experience as an HBHA parent so far, I would like to add that as a parent I have been awed by the teaching staff at HBHA. My children have been working hard and learning a great deal. Their classes - in person and virtual - have been well organized, with a weekly schedule that is clear and easy to follow. Teachers have gone out of their way to support my kids where they need it: whether that involves executive function supports, extra reading practice, or catching them up on lessons they missed. Teaching remotely is VERY challenging for teachers, and HBHA’s teachers have all stepped up to the challenge.
I know this situation is not ideal, but I am very grateful that I am in a community that is working so hard to simultaneously support our students while making decisions to protect the health of our more vulnerable members.
I hope we will be back in school soon, but until that time, we are dedicated to giving you all the best possible experience we can during your children’s time at home. If you need extra support, please let us know: Feel free to reach out to your children’s teachers, your school division principal, or me. We know we can always do better and your feedback, positive or negative, means a lot to us. Stay in touch and stay healthy!
HBHA Head of School