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Elchanan Poupko

Back to School: Open Letter to Our Next Generation

First-grade students sit in a classroom on their first day of school at Efrata elementary school in Jerusalem, on September 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Dear Incoming Students of 2023-2024,

Here we are again at the beginning of a new year.

“How is this year different than any other year?” you might wonder.

You might be feeling a mixture of excitement and anxiety to discover who your teachers are, what new friends you will make, and what new subjects you will study.

You might have read that the world is changing really fast—robots, Artificial Intelligence, and global shifts like we have not seen in a while—and wonder what that means for you. What skills are most important for your going into this world that is changing so fast?

“What subjects should I focus on most?” you may wonder. “What jobs will be around anyway when I grow up?” and many more questions might be rightfully running through your head.

I am not a prophet and cannot answer many of these questions with certainty, but here is what I can tell you.

No matter how much this world changes, the need and ability to make real human connections will always be there. You do not have to connect with every person to be a good friend a kind person, to be trusted, not to take cheap shots at someone less popular or more vulnerable than you, to say please, and thank you, to look someone in the eye and say you appreciate it or that you are sorry, will always remain with you.

When I say real, I mean real. In a world where so many connect to others only through screens and usernames, the need for real friendships is greater than ever. Whether it is going to visit someone who is sick, attending a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, or spending the day volunteering, real human connections will remain with you for the rest of your life.

Which brings us to what the world needs most today. It may sound corny, cliché, and superficial, but it is the truth. The world needs kind people. Not kind people who will be quiet, hide in their corner, and be pushed over. The world needs kind leaders. People that will show this world a better path. Who will spread their kindness to help create a kinder and happier society? We need a real alternative to the mean-spiritedness that is spreading so quickly through social media and has taken over so many aspects of public life today. We need you.

While so many of your parents and teachers were born in a world with no social media and little internet, you were born into a world that is so interconnected, and it is you who will know how to change that all for the better.

As you begin this year, remember how much the world needs you. Of course, you should do your best to excel in every subject, get good grades, and follow school expectations. Yet above that, your ability to transform this world with kindness, make real connections, form lasting friendships, and establish your reputation as a trustworthy and caring person—all begin today.

There is not one—but more than one hundred generations—of Jews who are looking at you now and know that you are our best hope and our future. You are everything we have. We have faith in you, we believe in you, and we are cheering you on.

Tachel Shana U’Birkoteha,

Let this year and its blessings begin. You have this. 

Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

About the Author
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a New England based eleventh-generation rabbi, teacher, and author. He has written Sacred Days on the Jewish Holidays, Poupko on the Parsha, and hundreds of articles published in five languages. He is the president of EITAN--The American Israeli Jewish Network.
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