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Hesed vs. Gevurah: A Balancing Act

January 15, 2021
By Adam Tilove

Happy Friday!

I want to take this opportunity to review a little of what we learned in our parent survey, taken just before winter break. Of course, satisfaction is a moving target: Every time we make a change, some people are happy and some, well, not so much. There are some very interesting findings from this survey that I’d like to share, to elucidate the complexities of what we are working with this year.

First of all, 55 parents/guardians responded to the survey. Not so bad, but of course the data would be more useful if more people responded (feel subtle guilt here).

In terms of overall satisfaction with the school this year, we found that 20 survey takers were very satisfied, and 5 were very unsatisfied. 10 people gave us a 3 - right in the middle. In the year 2020, my motto has been, “Okay is the new great!” Nevertheless, our goal is for every family to be completely overjoyed with our program, and we certainly have more work to do.

In terms of how we have been dealing with COVID, the data is very interesting. We asked, “What is your satisfaction with how safely the school has handled the pandemic?” With 1 indicating too stringent, to 5 indicating not stringent enough, here are the results:

More than 50% of the respondents think we have handled it just about right. Interestingly, 14 people think the school has been too stringent in our COVID safety protocols, while 11 think we have not been stringent enough. 

I think it's important to share this data to show that there is a wide and almost equal divide between those who believe we have done too much and those who do not feel we’ve done enough.

Embracing the Challenge
As you can imagine, this is a challenging tightrope to walk. Over the past several months, we: myself and the COVID Task Force, have received some scalding rebukes from members of our community. I know it's not personal - this is very challenging for everyone - parents, children, teachers, and administrators. Tensions run high - and they did again this week.

In this past week, we made some hasty decisions - namely requiring COVID testing for everyone who enters our building - in an effort to keep school open, and open safely. I recognize this new requirement caused stress and discord. 

Here’s a true story. One of our employees got tested last Friday and received a negative result. Because of our mandate, they tested again this Wednesday, and received a positive result the next day. This person, who has been very diligent about COVID-safety practices, was shocked. The employee was completely asymptomatic, yet they immediately went home to quarantine. The testing worked.

I completely understand that required testing is a burden on parents, and I don't know if we will continue to require them. That is why we are piloting this effort - to see if it works in the longer term. However, I think it's necessary to share that testing has the potential to slow the spread of the virus in our community. 

At the end of next week, we will send another parent survey to gain a better understanding of parents’ thoughts and feelings about the COVID testing policy. We have always worked in partnership with our families, and your opinions will continue to help inform HBHA's decisions about how best to move forward. While we can never make 100% of families happy, we still want to try! 

We are here to educate, support, nurture, and create community for our students. We have found that keeping students on campus - as often and as safely as possible - is the best way to provide strong academics and the social-emotional support necessary for successful learning. As a result, we hope to keep school on campus as much as possible for the remainder of the year.

Giving Grace
When I was a religion major in college, I learned about the Christian term “grace.” It refers to God giving us mercy even though we have done nothing to deserve it. Judaism too has the concept of grace, but in our tradition, it is counterbalanced by justice and strength. In the Kabbalah, God's attributes are associated with parts of the body. Hesed, or kindness and grace, corresponds to God’s right arm. Gevurah, representing severity and cold hard justice, corresponds to God’s left arm. Hesed is stronger, but not by much!

I bring this up because we are living through a tough time. Between COVID and the seeming unraveling of our beloved country, there is no doubt we are all on edge. Our patience is wearing thin. We are inclined to fear the worst in each other. Some of us look at the data and see the chance of dying of COVID is small, if one is healthy and under the age of 60. Others see more than 4,000 people are dying of COVID each day in the U.S., and thousands more become very sick and remain sick for months. All are correct. 

What we need now is more grace toward one another. This is a very stressful and dark time in the world, but we are not each other's enemies. We are a community of diverse people, but we all want to do the right thing - even if we disagree on what exactly constitutes “the right thing.”

There is a Jewish concept called machloket b’shem shamyim. A machloket is an argument, or disagreement. It can be painful and destructive. A machloket b’shem shamyim is an argument for the sake of heaven. In essence, it is a constructive disagreement in which both sides stand to gain. Think, two people who are passionate about football but support different teams. 

Of course, navigating the pandemic feels heavier than a communal love of football, but with the right mindset, we can come together and agree on the following basic principles: 

  • Being in person at school is better than being in school virtually. 
  • We care about each other's health and don’t want anyone in our community getting seriously ill. 

I think these are what we all want. If we remember that, our disagreements can be constructive, not destructive. 

I thank our families for the patience you have shown as we work through this together. We really care about our entire HBHA family, and we want to protect the health of everyone who enters our building as best we can. We will never stop working to make HBHA a school that you feel a part of … and one you love.

Shabbat Shalom,

Adam Tilove
HBHA Head of School