That moment when…

Life is a collection of moments.

Some are sacred, some mundane, some forgettable, some forgotten,

Some unsought, some unavoidable, some profound, some confounding.

Life is a collection of moments.

 

Walking to the park

Typing now, I am trying to capture one of these moments. The moment when Loren and I found out that our beautiful daughter, Hadara, has been accepted to The Davis Academy.

For some parents, the power of this moment comes on the first day of kindergarten.

For me, the power of this moment comes now, knowing that my daughter will be joining me each and every day for the next 9 years, attending the school I so deeply cherish, love, and believe in.

For me, the power of this moment is the fact that Loren and I made a conscious choice to send Hadara to Davis. We agreed that if it wasn’t the right place for her to become the person we hope she will become that we wouldn’t send her there simply because of my passionate love for and belief in Davis.

For me, the power of this moment reminds me how completely blown away both Loren and I were when we visited Davis not as Jewish professionals, but as parents with the singular focus of what Davis would offer to Hadara.

For me, the power of this moment is the fact that every time we visit Davis, Hadara is bursting with excitement, full of questions, and eager to visit the playground.

But even more, the power of this moment is knowing what awaits my daughter, my family, and me.

For starters, how many fathers can say that they’ll get to take their daughter to and from school nearly every day? Sure I’ll miss my quiet car rides, but this alone is a gift beyond measure.

Then I think about Hadara’s teachers, my colleagues. I think about the love, the passion, the humor, the wisdom, the creativity, the innovation, the ceaseless pursuit of new ideas, the advocacy for students, the teamwork, the smiles, the hugs. This moment is overwhelmed with the knowledge that I would entrust Hadara’s education to each and every faculty member at Davis willingly and joyfully.

This moment is overwhelmed with the realization that our family’s journey will be transformed by The Davis Academy. In addition to Hadara’s education, there will be new experiences for all of us, new friends, new adventures, new challenges, new stories, new opportunities.

Along with the potential, excitement, and overwhelming gratitude of this moment comes an interesting challenge. The challenge is that Hadara’s acceptance to Davis enhances my struggle to convey all that The Davis Academy means to me.

For years I’ve explored the fact that few people outside of The Davis Academy can truly appreciate “what I do.” I suppose that would be fine if there wasn’t such a deep connection between what I do and “who I am.” When people think of rabbis they’re generally able to imagine what it is that a rabbi does. When people think of teachers or school administrators they’re able to do the same. The mental picture may not be completely accurate, but at least there’s a mental picture.

When people think of Jewish Day Schools, it’s hard to be able to fully appreciate what a school like The Davis Academy is actually all about. For many, the mental picture isn’t even close to the reality.

So when it comes to being a rabbi and administrator at The Davis Academy, I find, consistently, that it’s difficult to convey the absolutely remarkable fact of my daily existence. It’s hard to explain just how awesome it is to have the honor of doing what I do at Davis. People generally have no point of reference unless they too work at a school like Davis.

Now that I know that Hadara will be joining me at The Davis Academy I can honestly say that our family is blessed beyond measure. If someone had told me that my rabbinate would lead my family to the journey that awaits us, I never would’ve been able to imagine just how lucky and exciting it would be.

I hope that every parent that receives an acceptance letter from a private school in these upcoming weeks is able to feel the same level of joy and exhilaration that we feel today in the Lapidus household.

 

Thou Shalt Create

This week I’ve been making the case to 5th graders that creativity is the one of (if not THE) most important characteristic of the Jewish people. Were it not for remarkable and visionary creativity I truly believe that the Jewish people would’ve ceased to exist long ago. What’s been most inspiring is their response. They have responded to this idea with tremendous enthusiasm and creativity.

Rather than simply lecturing on the creative spark within Judaism, we’ve been working collaboratively to think creatively about challenges and opportunities facing the Jewish world today. In the course of a 50 minute class period they have demonstrated, consistently, the radical creativity necessary to ensure a vibrant Jewish future.

Working in teams, the students have followed a protocol very loosely based on design thinking. They’ve come up with initiatives, organizations, projects, and websites designed to address challenges and opportunities that exist in the Jewish world today. And their ideas have been truly inspiring. So inspiring that I’ll leave you guessing and encourage you to undertake a similar thought experiment with the young people in your community.

I told the 5th graders that there are many individuals in the Jewish community today that have tremendous capacity and desire to support creative projects that will strengthen the Jewish future. I believe it’s only a matter of time before such an individual finds their appetite whetted by one of the creative ideas my students quickly identified today.

Asking a child to do a grown up’s job

A recent JEDLAB discussion on Passover got me thinking. Are Jewish educators asking children to do the job of grown ups when it comes to Jewish life and living? And if so, are we inadvertently infantilizing grown ups in the process? Here’s what I mean…

When it comes to Passover, Jewish tradition is pretty clear that it’s the job of the grown ups to find ways of engaging children in the seder. As a Jewish educator I know that I have limited capacity (time, influence, and otherwise) to equip grown ups with the skills to do this if they don’t already have them. So I focus on the kids. I make sure that they’re conversant in the liturgy of the seder and also that they’re equipped to bring something creative, provocative, engaging, and different to their seder so that they might be the ones who engage the grown ups. A complete reversal of the traditional Jewish view that places this onus on the grown ups.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the grown ups are very appreciative that their children come to seder ready to engage them in a meaningful experience. But this comes with a potential (and I do mean potential) shadow side– we empower the children but infantilize the grown ups and the seder experience more generally.

While children are more than capable of bringing something cute and interesting to their seder table, they’re not capable of facilitating and participating in the kind of adult conversation that really honors the complex themes and social critique embedded in the Passover story. Seder, when focused only on the children and built around their engaging contributions, may be memorable, enjoyable, rewarding, celebratory and many other things, but it is likely not deep,  challenging, transformational, or significant. Of course a well-timed query from a child can propel a seder table to new depths, but this isn’t a guarantee. As grown ups wait for and depend upon the energy and creativity of the children at the seder table the really important questions may go unanswered.

More than likely seder is actually a blend of child generated joy and adult conversation. But as Jewish educators we have to ask whether our focus on the child runs the risk of letting grown ups off the hook a little too easily.

Thoughts on Mentoring

Today I was presented with and accepted a sacred invitation– to mentor a child. The child’s parents approached me after I reached out to them to share some thoughts I had about their child on the basis of a series of classroom interactions. Sitting in my office, discussing their child’s personality, interests, and needs, was very powerful. Now I find myself reflecting on what it means to be a mentor, and more particularly, a mentor to an emerging young adult.

Children should be surrounded by a host of trusted adults that have the child’s best interests in mind. Parents, teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, clergy– all of these trusted adults wield tremendous power and therefore bear profound responsibility for the wellbeing of the children in their care. Any of these trusted adults can serve as a mentor for a child but it’s wholly possible that none of them will serve that role. To be a mentor is to self-consciously reframe the nature of a relationship toward certain positive aims. What are those aims?

It seems to me that a good mentor should be committed to certain values and principles. I’ll list some of them for clarity’s sake:

1) Promoting reflection– encouraging both the mentor and the mentee to become more reflective and self-aware. To provide occasions for reflection and to take the mentee’s thoughts and ideas seriously. To help direct reflection when appropriate particularly by asking good questions.

2) Asking questions– expressing curiosity, taking an interest, wondering aloud– a good mentor will do these things with a sense of joy and authentic interest.

3) Taking cues– knowing when to engage and when to step back, leaving plenty of room for the mentee to disengage without ever taking it personally.

4) Reciprocity– a good mentor should own up to the fact that they value the gifts that they receive from their mentee be they new ideas, new energy, new ways of seeing the world, or simply the fact of being appreciated and supporting another person on their journey.

My life has been enriched by various mentors on my journey. I know I’m not alone in this. My prayer is that, when called upon to serve as a mentor, we are all able to accept this sacred invitation and pay it forward.

Know

One of my favorite monthly responsibilities is teaching the 5th graders at The Davis Academy. During our first meeting we typically play a “4 corners” activity. I present a series of prompts and they place themselves in whichever corner best describes their response. Invariably, one the prompts I ask them to respond to is: “Sometimes other people know us better than we know ourselves.”

Having done this activity for several years now I feel like I can say with something approaching certainty, that most 5th graders haven’t really thought about what it means to “know thyself.” My goal in presenting them with the prompt is to destabilize them a bit– to open them to the possibility that there are aspects of the “self” that they haven’t explored. I want them to be able to encounter and experience themselves and one another in new ways, to disrupt some of the patterns that have formed even at this early age. I want them to arrive at a deeper knowing of themselves, one another, and the world around them.

What I want for them in terms of “knowing” I want for myself and others as well.

The Gates of Gratitude

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2nd Grade Thank You Notes to God

The “Thank You Note” is one genre that will never go out of style. Putting pen to paper to express gratitude is, without a doubt, an irreplaceable act of human expression. What’s wonderful about these thank you notes, written by 2nd graders, is the unabashed simplicity and fullness of their gratitude. Parents, siblings, teachers, teddy bears, waking up in the morning, the earth. How could we be anything other than grateful? And if our hearts are filled with the awareness of gratitude, how can we not express our gratitude through words, actions, and indeed all of our being?

 

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2nd Grade Thank You Notes to God

Children’s Spiritual Watercoloring

 

I feel close to God when... (from upper left to bottom right) ... I see an ocean.  ...when I am close to my family. ...when I'm inside and outside. ...when I see a rainbow. ...in a synagogue and with my family. ... when I'm at synagogue.
I feel close to God when… (from upper left to bottom right)
… I see an ocean.
…when I am close to my family.
…when I’m inside and outside.
…when I see a rainbow.
…in a synagogue and with my family.
… when I’m at synagogue.

 

As I look at these water color paintings made by 2nd graders at The Davis Academy I can’t help but feel that there’s something truly refreshing and inspiring about the easy way that children express their spirituality. How can we ensure that as they grow we (parents, teachers, society) don’t inadvertently shut down this natural part of the human experience? How can we ensure that this openness to spirituality thrives and grows, developing alongside all the other capacities that we recognize as being important be they intellectual, emotional, or moral?

One simple thing we can all do right now without any preparation is listen to children when they express spiritual ideas, when they ask spiritual questions, and when they articulate spiritual beliefs. Our lives will be enriched by their innocent profundity and by listening we let them know that we care deeply about what they think, feel, and believe.

Why I’m Fasting Today

Today many Jews and Muslims are fasting. We are fasting because our calendars tell us to. But some of us are also fasting so we can think deeply about peace/Shalom/Salaam. For that reason many of us feel that our fasts are linked and many other people of diverse backgrounds are joining us. I don’t usually observe minor fast days but today I am. I want to think about Shalom. And I want to be hungry while I think about it.

A number of years ago I wrote a song that was eventually recorded on The Davis Academy’s first CD of original Jewish music: Be a Blessing. The song is called “Seek Peace.” It’s based on a passage from Psalms that teaches, “Seek peace and pursue it.” It’s a song about the simplicity of peace, about the endless ways we can think about and achieve peace, and the ever flowing river of metaphors we might use to speak about peace.

The song is sung by kids. Their voices remind me that, from the perspective of a child, peace is the simplest thing in the world. If you’re looking for something to do as you fast or as you don’t fast, I invite you to listen to this song. I hope it makes you happy and hopeful.

DISCLAIMER: Everything that follows below is going to feel like a sales pitch. That’s not my intention and I’m sorry if it comes across that way. I simply believe in this song and in the power of music to effect change.

Here’s a YouTube video from The Davis Academy’s 2013 Israel trip. In it you’ll hear kids singing along with the album. It’s shaky but fun, especially if you were there! Unfortunately someone decided to give it a “thumbs down” on YouTube. In the scope of the universe it doesn’t matter much but I generally only exert energy for giving things a “thumbs up.”

 

 

The song, along with the whole album, are available for free download here. I’ve also got lyrics and musical notation for anyone that loves singing about peace and wants to add this song to their repertoire.

 

The Child in Room 18

This week I did something I pray that none of us ever have to do. I visited a child who was actively dying and his family. There is no way to express the feeling of dread that welled up as I navigated the corridors of Scottish Rite. No way to express the rush of tears that were summoned by the sobs of those that stood vigil. No way to express the anger and confusion that come with standing beside a family that has been robbed of hopes and dreams. No way to express the sense of holiness and solemnity that comes with watching a grandmother stroking the hair of the child. No way to express the unpredictable decent of laughter into tears and back to laughter. No way to express what it means to speak to a child not knowing if he can hear. Not knowing what to say. Making promises that I must now pray to be able to honor. Promises to remember, to respect, to celebrate. No way to bracket images of my own children. No way to sidestep the theological implications. No way to empathize with the parents, drowning in the grief of anticipation. No way to assess what Amichai called the diameter of the bomb. No way to process the artwork drawn by the older brother with the caption, “Good luck in heaven!” No way to thank the nurses that patiently and attentively made handprints and footprints for loved ones. No way to express what it means to be able to turn around and walk away. No way to know if my counsel is that of a sage or an idiot. No way to hit send on an email that will wound people that I care about.

It’s not about me. It’s about all of us. Together we make order out of chaos. Together we make meaning out of biology. Together we mourn and eventually celebrate. We cry on one another’s shoulders. We stand behind, beside, and among brokenness. We gather shards, patiently, indignantly, courageously, and reluctantly. We stand within the breach and look toward the light. Sometimes in the light we see the face of a dying child. Sometimes the sun/son shines so brightly we can’t help but cry.

The Torah of Kid President

My colleague Drew Frank just sent around the most recent installment of Kid President:

 

If Kid President doesn’t put a big smile on your face then you’ve fully surrendered to some sort of soul eroding cynicism. In this video Kid President makes one of my favorite observations about education– we’re all teachers and we’re all learners, life is school, and we’re in class all the time (there are no grades).

I’m calling this post “The Torah of Kid President” because his observation about the deep connection between teaching and learning is one that we live here at The Davis Academy where all of us, parents, faculty, and, most importantly, students are engaged in ongoing teaching and learning. It’s also captured by the Hebrew language where the root: Lamed-Mem-Dalet is the source of the word: lomeid (learn) and m’lameid (teach).

We can’t be reminded enough that, from a Jewish perspective, teaching and learning are deeply and inextricably intertwined.

We cannot teach if we aren’t actively involved in ongoing learning. The wells of inspiration, motivation, and information will simply run dry. Similarly, learners of all ages must understand that having much to learn and much to teach aren’t mutually exclusive.

How do we get kids to understand how much they have to teach not just how much they have to learn? For starters, those of us who teach  can be sensitive to the flow and structure of our lessons– how much are we hearing our own voice versus how much we are creating a space for our students to share theirs? When we tip the scales in favor of hearing the ideas and insights of our students then we create communities of learning and teaching that are profoundly dynamic and enriching.