Bad hair day: A back-to-school blessing

Back to School!

Our beloved children’s day school reopens today on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, six months after COVID19 shut it down. This is a meaningful snapshot of Jewish history: in this generation as well, facing a serious threat, we prioritize education and find joy in handing the baton of Torah down the generational chain.

Of the 100 or so teachers at Manhattan Day School/Yeshivat Ohr Torah, only a handful have elected, with a heavy heart, to teach on Zoom. The others are, by all accounts, jumping with happiness at the prospect of being reunited with their students. They know their mission and they crave teaching.

During the entire summer, our Head of School, her administration, the school’s Board, and the Parents Council, worked tirelessly to treat COVID19 with the same vigilance as terror threats after Poway.  Even the most neurotic of Manhattan Jewish parents cannot find fault with the military-style briefings, rolling start times, health apps for early detection, classroom “bubbles,” masks, and other protocols.

These educators, administrators, and volunteers rose to the occasion and kept their eyes on the prize:  children exuding excitement at the prospect of seeing their friends and, in the famous words of Abigail the Shunammite, “sitting among their people.”  That sentiment is palpable; their main complaint is that the social distancing bubbles, which make each classroom an island, will keep them away from others.

This truly calls for a prayer and a blessing.  The obvious one would be that, surely, the God who commanded us to have children for the purpose of learning and spreading the values that they will be taught in the bubble, should send the angels of health, peace, and protection to accompany them and their teachers.

But then I heard for the time first time in six months the sounds of a school morning, and the blessing for the occasion struck me:

“My hair is a total disaster.  No matter what I do, it’s still sticking up!”

“You do realize that you cannot share your mask with your friends, right??”  “No worries, only Papa would do something like that.”

“You can’t wear this, it’s too short!”  “How about this one?  It’s super long in the front but the back rolls up for some reason…”

So after the obligatory first-day picture rite of passage, and its forced smiles, we dropped them off with this simple Berakha:  “Please God, give them all an ordinary day.”

About the Author
Ari Afilalo (afilalo@camden.rutgers.edu) is a professor of law at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey. He grew up in France, the son of a Jewish Moroccan family, in an ethnically mixed working class neighborhood. He has published extensively in the field of international law. He is the current president of the West Side Sephardic Synagogue in Manhattan.
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