Better than Talent

Every week The Davis Academy transitions from the busyness of school to the restfulness of Shabbat with a Kabbalat Shabbat ceremony. It’s invariably a joyful affair full of singing, skits, stories, and blessings. Our whole community looks forward to Kabbalat Shabbat and many students, teachers, and parents point to Kabbalat Shabbat as an example of the “Davis Spirit.” Last week’s Kabbalat Shabbat made a huge impression on me, so I’ll share my “takeaway” from the experience.

Lately we’ve experienced a palpable surge in student and teacher creativity when it comes to planning and leading Kabbalat Shabbat. A few months ago our 3rd grade teachers and students choreographed a Micamocha flashmob. There’s been an increase in student iyyunim, supplementary songs, and themed services. Kabbalat Shabbat is no longer just about the 45 minutes of communal togetherness. It’s being integrated into class meeting time, technology lessons, recess, and other areas of the school as students and teachers are coming to expect creativity, innovation, and inspiration from one another. It’s spilling over from school into the home, where kids are rehearsing their lines, sewing their costumes, and invited grandparents and cousins to attend. Writing now, I’m stuck again by how remarkably vibrant it has become.

Which brings me to last week. A visitor to our school could have made the statement: ‘There’s a lot of talent at The Davis Academy.’ This last week the 2nd grade class that led Kabbalat Shabbat prepared a series of riddles on Jewish heroes and leaders and came dressed in full costume. A group of 5th grade students called the “Musical Mentsches” songlead most of the prayers with their guitars and drums. We enjoyed a Tubishevat skit written and directed by a 3rd grader and ‘starring’ her entire class. Additionally we heard an inspiring Dvar Torah by an 8th grader. Lastly, we were treated to a special ‘mini-concert’ by The Davis Decibelles, our middle school female vocal ensemble. You could call that a lot of talent, but I think it’s something different and better.

Talent is a tricky thing. Embedded in the notion of talent is the idea that it’s either something you’re blessed with or something you lack. While talent can be cultivated and discovered, there’s something elusive and decidedly undemocratic about talent.

What I and others experienced at Kabbalat Shabbat last week is something better than talent. We experienced creativity, imagination, passion, joy, team work, empowerment, engagement, and spirituality. Unlike talent, I believe that these capacities are precisely the kinds of things that can and should be among the most important aims of Jewish education.

Lately a few of us at Davis have been revisiting the question of what it means to be a Reform Jewish Day School (after all, there aren’t that many out there). Last Friday I was convinced that The Davis Academy is a school that inspires students to take ownership of the Jewish story– through skits, song leading, costuming, and interpreting Torah. Our students and teachers have assumed the responsibility for keeping Judaism fresh, vibrant, honest, and relevant. They’ve assumed the responsibility not only for transmitting, but for teaching, reinterpreting, and reinvigorating the broader Jewish community. While this isn’t the only answer to the question of what it means to be a Reform JDS I think it’s a key component.

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