This has been a week of deep reflection for me. After last week's Friday email, I received several complimentary responses, but even more emails expressing anger and disappointment. I had intended to write an email that explained how we mourned those lost in last week's tragedy - specifically in a way in which they may feel most meaningful, with psalms, and at the same time express to our non-Orthodox families the value of prayer in our school. But for some, my email seemed cold, divisive and insulting. For that I am very sorry.
Each week I sit and think about the messages I want to send to the community. I try to write from a place that is honest, personal, and reflective. I try to write with a sense of Jewish purpose, educational vision, and with an eye towards community building. Sometimes I do pretty well. Sometimes I miss the mark. Sometimes I hit the mark for part of the community and miss the mark for another.
HBHA is a special and unique place. We have everyone from atheist and interfaith families to Hasidic families in our school. Even the Israel Minister of Diaspora Affairs was shocked and delighted to learn about us - and she called us a model for world Jewry. After all, most communities have separate schools for the Orthodox and Non-Orthodox families. In those communities, our aspirations, successes and problems remain separate.
But HBHA doesn’t have that luxury. Here, we are all in this together. United we stand, divided we fall. Our school is where community happens. Synagogues are by definition separated by denomination. The J and Federation are critical resources and community builders, but their level of interaction is different from HBHA's.
At HBHA, we face both the joy and pain of serving the whole community. There is so much joy in practicing, learning, and living Judaism together. But there is also fear and stress. We have limited resources - time, money, and personnel. And these resources need to meet the needs of very different communities with very different values and needs. As we look to strengthen our school, there is excitement and anticipation for some, and anxiety and dread for others. This is a natural by-product of all of being in the same school, but wanting different things.
We all feel deeply invested in our school and its future. We all want to maintain the wonderful aspects of our school. And we want to make sure everyone feels comfortable and included. But those visions of what Judaism is, and what excellence looks like is very different depending on who you ask. It feels at times like the safest bet is to maintain the status quo.
I had a conversation with someone this week who asked me, “How do you think about risk management?” My mind went immediately to this issue. There is risk in the status quo. Our enrollment is down while expenses are up. As Yeats wrote, “Things fall apart, the centre will not hold.” Or as Bob Dylan wrote, “Those not busy being born are busy dying.”
And yet there is great wisdom in the status quo, and one ignores that at one’s own risk. After all, the status quo represents all the best solutions the system could create over the course of decades. With any change to a status quo, where one is likely to feel gain, another is likely to feel loss. I am reminded of Israel under Rabin. While half the country was ebullient, dreaming of peace with the Palestinians, the other half the country was feeling dread and loathing. It ended in tragedy.
I participated in a community professional development opportunity this week, and one sentence struck me as profound. It is that the only way to grow is through ‘rupture and repair.’ Without rupture and repair, only the status quo can delicately be held together. It's a scary concept, because what if there is rupture without repair? Isn’t quietly simmering, suffering, and avoiding the issues better than tackling it head on and risking everything?
I believe that we share enough in common, and we have the spiritual capacity to talk to each other, hear each other, understand each other, and even support each other. I’m not saying that it isn’t happening, but I think we as a community can do better.
I want to finish this long email by saying that I understand that at times my views will not fall in line with yours - either Orthodox, Reform, interfaith, Conservative, converting, or Hasidic. But I hope you will always trust my motivation: to strengthen our special school for every constituent. I will also trust that you too want what is best for the school and community.
There is a concept in Judaism called “Machlochet L’shem Shamayim,” or “An argument for the sake of Heaven.” It is, in essence, a disagreement between people, understanding that both sides are trying to find the best and holiest solution, and that both sides of the argument should be remembered and preserved, for even in their disagreements there is holiness.
I hope that as we continue our journey together as a community, all our disagreements will be for the sake of heaven, and we will find ways to honor, respect, and support each other at every step.
HBHA Head of School
Happy Earth Day and Earth week!
I read two interesting things this week: The first is that the insurance giant Swiss Re published a report on the projected economic impact of climate change. They stated that by 2050, the global economy could be 11-14% lower than it would be without climate change, as a result of ocean waters rising to envelope cities, and hurricanes, floods, and forest fires becoming more frequent and severe. This amounts to a $23 trillion dollars a year difference in economic output, not to mention the difference in human suffering due to these changes.
The second is that the United States now has the audacious goal of halving its carbon emissions by 2030 - just 8.5 years from now. It seems unfathomable to me, but it is the goal!
This got me thinking of the enormous change happening in our world, and how much of it I don’t do! The next 30 years are going to be critical for our world. The students in our school are going to be facing monumental challenges that our generation has put before them. In 2050, God willing, I will be almost 80 years old, and my time to make a difference will have mostly passed. But our kindergarteners will be in their early 30s, and our seniors will be in their late 40s.
How do we prepare them for a challenging future we can barely imagine?
Every school will tell you some of the same answers. We need to help our students develop critical thinking skills. They need to know Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM).
But I think the most important skill isn't even a skill. It's an attitude. A mental discipline. We have to help our students care. We have to show them that life is not a zero sum game, where they are competing with each other to be the best, strongest, smartest, or richest. We have to teach them, and show them that caring for one another, for the world, and for our future generations is core to who we are as a people.
This sense of purpose - of teaching the next generation that there is meaning in our lives, and that meaning is deeply connected to how we treat others and our world as a whole - is in everything we do: from the books we read, to the subjects we discuss in mentoring, to our community service requirements.
We know life isn’t just about academic rigor. It is also about meaning, purpose, and making the world a better place.
The moral of the story is, care.
HBHA Head of School
Note: This week, in lieu of Adam Tilove's regular message, we are pleased to share highlights of the past two weeks at HBHA!
HBHA Celebrates Israel
Yom HaShoah, followed by Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut, are all important in the cycle of our school year. Our Jewish Studies department always makes it look easy, but much preparation goes into making these Israeli holidays memorable and meaningful for our students. The love our teachers share for Israel - and the lessons they teach - contribute to our students’ connection to the State of Israel.
Typically, these holidays bring students together across the grades in commemoration and in celebration. This year’s holiday observances looked quite different, so we can keep our school community safe, healthy, and most important, on campus!
Fortunately, our creative and dedicated Jewish Studies department ensured students were still able to experience the holidays in relevant ways. The holidays also gave many of our older students an opportunity to shine in the leadership roles they took throughout the holidays.
Yom HaShoah | Holocaust Remembrance Day
For Yom HaShoah, HBHA partnered with the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education and HBHA families to bring this holiday into the homes of our students. Students in select grades brought yahrzeit candles home to light in memory of those who died in the Holocaust. Each candle included the names of people who were related to members of Kansas City's Jewish community.
It was a special way to turn this extreme loss - 6 million perished in the Holocaust - into a learning opportunity that students of all ages can grasp. Thanks to our families for sending in photos of your students lighting the candles.
Yom HaZikaron | Israel Memorial Day
Yom HaZikaron is another holiday typically observed in group settings around HBHA; with a memorial service, the sounding of the siren to call for a moment of silence (just like in Israel), and learning about those who have fallen for the State of Israel.
Unable to bring our students together indoors, we instead brought the holiday to our students: Upper School student volunteers - along with Head of Jewish Studies, Rabbi Avi Weinstein, and Director of Jewish Life, Zohar Flacks - created a video memorial service for students to watch in their classrooms. The video was accompanied by special programming for grades 6-12.
Yom HaAtzmaut | Israel Independence Day
From darkness comes light, and so is the way with Yom HaAtzmaut, which comes on the heels of Israel’s Memorial Day, making the celebration of Israel’s independence that much sweeter.
Yom HaAtzmaut 2021 held a very special moment for HBHA students and faculty: it was the first time our entire student body was able to come together (safely) in a group setting since March 2020. Students were thrilled to be able to gather around the flagpole in their classroom pods, and seniors led the school in a brief flag raising ceremony. The ceremony was followed by an outdoor, school-wide parade on the grounds of the Jewish Community Campus, and a day full of grade-level activities, which ranged from Israel Bingo to IDF Boot Camp to outdoor games of Gaga.
The ruach surrounding Yom HaAtzmaut was apparent in the week leading up to the holiday: Students created decorations for the school and learned all about Israel. We invite you to visit HBHA on Instagram and Facebook in the coming week to view even more moments from these celebrations.
With appreciation for our Middle and Upper School STUCO students and our Jewish Studies teachers: Michal Cohen, Michal Luger, Leah Nash, Rabbi Aron Rubin, Tami Sal, Tammy Sandler, Nira Solomon, Chanie Sosover, and Civia White, who met and surpassed the challenge of creatively and safely observing these holidays. Special thanks to Zohar Flacks, for leading the way.
From all of us at HBHA - wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.
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