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It’s the little things

Purim costumes in a Jewish day school are a given, but dressing up for Pink Day to spread breast cancer awareness is no less a matter of Jewish education

With the Jewish month of Adar now upon us, many schools, our own included, increase the opportunity for fun and levity within the day-to-day of the students’ experience. Mi Sh’Nichnas Adar Marbim B’Simcha. We have more music, more simcha, and more dress-up days. Whether it’s sports jersey day, or pajama day, we use something mundane like how we dress for school and by changing it slightly, we make it stand out for a purpose. 

This may seem insignificant, and just a silly tradition or, for some, perhaps it seems a distraction – but these assumptions would be wrong. This is an incredibly simple yet profoundly Jewish idea and ideal.

The very essence of our beautiful heritage, the rituals and mitzvot that make up the fundamental practices of Judaism, all stem from a foundational idea – we must find the spiritual potential in even the most mundane, most base objects and situations. When we eat, we must make a blessing and declare to ourselves that even the physical mundane act of eating is an opportunity to connect to the supernal. Everywhere we turn is an opportunity to find the sparks of spirituality all around our physical world.

The directive to increase in joy during the month(s) of Adar, a law dictating how we are meant to feel, might seem enigmatic. And yet, there it is – our religion asks of us that we find ways, large and small, to be happier, more joyous. When we send our children to school dressed in pajamas, or when a burst of music or dancing interrupts the regularly scheduled programming – this is a religious act!

This giggling child in her Princess Elsa pajamas and that smiling group of middle school boys wearing matching Luka Doncic jerseys that we hear in the classrooms and hallways should not be discounted or minimized. Those moments are religious in nature. Those moments are Jewish day school moments.

We crafted another moment filled with both deep, profound feeling and meaning, as well as a change in attire. This week our school participated in an effort across Jewish high schools and organizations nationwide, led by the international organization Sharsheret to celebrate a coordinated “Pink Day” in an effort to spread awareness of breast and ovarian cancers, the families impacted by these dreaded diseases, and to promote health and self-care.

Our middle and high school students, dressed in pink, had a chance to learn from a parent in our school community. A devoted mother and wife, a daughter and daughter-in-law, came to speak to students about the impact a dreaded diagnosis can have on a whole family, as well as the power and strength that are born of the love and support of her community and family.

She spoke of the inspiring impact organizations such as Sharsheret have in these moments. She spoke about her fears, her faith and courage. She spoke vulnerably about real life difficulties, and venerably about the power of prayer. She spoke, and we all listened and learned.  

Although hearing words like “hormone therapy,” “Tamoxefin,” and “tumor markers” once again was difficult for me, the importance and meaning behind a “Pink Day” was truly moving and valuable and personal.

Through deliberately crafted moments of learning and inspiration, a day of wearing pink becomes more than a dress-up day. Through courageous acts of sharing vulnerably, our students learn how to take an abstract concept and word — cancer — and understand it in a deep and personal way. We took the mundane Wednesday, the simple act of dressing together in a particular color, and gave it inspiring meaning and depth.

We must make sure that our students, and ourselves, recognize how beautiful our religion of the senses truly is in every small facet and simple practice.

That is Jewish learning.  

And when Jewish learning is truly achieved, so is an Elsa nightgown and a Luca jersey. So is dancing in the hallways of schools.

So, the next time you see a smile on a dress-up day, or a giggle from a child in Jewish day school – smile yourself. 

And thank G-d that Jewish education is working. 

About the Author
Rabbi Yaakov Green is the Head of School for Akiba Yavneh Academy, a Modern Orthodox coed day school serving students from infants through 12th grade in Dallas, TX, where he lives with his wife Elisheva and their five children. Before coming to Akiba Yavneh, Yaakov has served as a school administrator for many years in St. Louis, MO, and Boca Raton, FL. Yaakov holds a master's degree in education, concentrating in Ed. Tech. Bachelor’s degrees in English Literature and Political Science, and has participated as a cohort fellow in many educational programs in Harvard University, JTS Davidson School, and University of Missouri, St Louis. He spent several years developing innovative programs that have been implemented across North America, Israel, and Australia, in classrooms, camps, and conventions, synagogues and Sunday schools.
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