It was pew déjà vu – back-to-back Shabbat services that focused on the relationship between teacher and student. And it wasn’t examined only in the present tense, but rather in the past, present and future tenses.
First, the “Teacher Recognition Shabbat.” Along with the Friday-night prayers there was a complement of teachers from the local religious school and some very young children. The spirited kindergarten-through-second-grade students demonstrated their Jewish learning by approaching the bema and singing songs that recognized their role in God’s world around them. To the naked eye, it was a lively group characterized by loud voices and lyrics accompanied by hand gestures, but to the adults present, it was the start of something bigger – children learning what it feels like to be part of the temple community.
But the clergy and the bema weren’t done yet. Congregants read and reacted to poetry that reminded everyone how essential the future generation is to our survival and how it is the teachers who will guide them. I looked at these sweet faces and felt a deep respect for how the journey starts and, hopefully, lasts a lifetime.
Later in the evening, the teachers were called to the bema to be recognized as four temple members held a tallit high for these instructors to stand beneath for honor and blessing. It was a reminder that this was no ordinary moment but one of gratitude that no gift of a coffee mug or scented candle could express.
Fast forward a week to the seventh-grade program, “Moving Up Shabbat,” which encouraged parents and students to remain involved in the temple beyond each child’s bar or bat mitzvah. The program asked these students to consider completing a Jewish studies series centered not on prayers but on ethics and the Jewish response to issues like gun control and reproductive rights. It represented a chance to learn from the instructors in a whole new way – not by rote but through thoughtful, philosophical discussions in which all parties, clergy and teachers included, could learn.
In encouraging the students to continue their Jewish education, the teachers pointed out that if secular seventh-grade studies in math, English and social studies were not enough to prepare students for the future, it is logical that looking for the synagogue exit post-b’nai mitzvah didn’t make sense either.
As a beneficiary of an adult bat mitzvah (two in fact), I appreciated the students’ older peers explaining, in their own language, why staying with their Jewish education came complete with the promise that the best was yet to come. Youth group activities, elective classes, confirmation, a school trip to advocate in Washington, DC, and a formal graduation – it wasn’t just the aleph-bet anymore.
But would that be enough to convince the young people? While the teachers, parents and other adult congregants were there to honor this milestone, would the students see the relevance of this threshold?
It could be argued that, in our lives, we learn from everyone we meet from the moment we are free of the womb. Yet there is a unique responsibility, a shared relationship, that teachers must forge with eager students to benefit the community and the world we live in, no matter what stage of learning you are in.
As so aptly phrased in the English portion of the Kaddish D’Rabanan, the prayer recited by mourners, in the prayer book Miskan T’Filah, A Reform Siddur (© 2007, Central Conference of American Rabbis),
For our teachers and their students,
and the students of the students,
we ask for peace and loving kindness, and let us say, Amen.
And for those who study Torah
here and everywhere
may they be blessed with all they need,
and let us say, Amen.
We ask for peace and lovingkindness,
And let us say, Amen.
Lauren B. Lev is a member of Hadassah’s Educators Council.