RELIGIOUS SCHOOL NEWS
Ben Lewis, Principal
While I prefer in person introductions, until we have the opportunity to meet, I wanted to introduce myself. My name is Ben Lewis and I have had the opportunity to be engaged in various aspects of formal and informal Jewish education, as a participant and as an educator, for the past 25 years. I recall fondly my time as a camper and counselor at Jewish overnight camp and had meaningful moments in youth group and peer trips to Israel as well. I look forward to working together to provide exciting and memorable Jewish experiences for the students at TBE.
Please stop by and introduce yourself to me. If you ever have any questions, don't be shy...I'm always happy to shmooze!
Each August, as the summer wraps to a close, students return to school, and the High Holy Day season comes up seemingly more quickly than ever before...I try to pause and reflect. The season motivates me to analyze the year that has passed and begin making plans for the future. This self accounting is not merely something I choose to do as an individual, but one that we as the Jewish people are encouraged to do as part of the preparation for Rosh Hashanah.
The Hebrew term for this self accounting is "Cheshbon haNefesh," literally, accounting of the soul, but more commonly translated as "moral accounting." The phrase's derivation is from a book of the same name written by one of the great rabbis of the Jewish Enlightenment, Menachem Mendel Lefin. The book's popularity grew when it was republished by the leaders of the Mussar movement, a tradition of ethical, cultural and educational Judaism, which blossomed in the mid-19th century. The Mussar movement, and by extension Lefin, encouraged taking stock of one's own self through introspective activities. For these great sages, an understanding of who we are as individuals and who we are as Jews were seamlessly dovetailed.
It is with this, that I issue a challenge. Prior to Rosh Hashanah, I encourage you to think a little bit about what the past year has meant. There were likely some moments of joy - graduations, babies being born, b’nai mitzvah, weddings, professional accomplishments, family vacations, etc... There too were likely moments of sadness - loss of a loved one, friends who have moved away, dissatisfaction with professional or academic achievements, etc... I am suggesting that if you can be honest with yourself, in an explicit way, the Hebrew year 5773 will finally be ready to close. You will enter into the year 5774 full of excitement and perhaps more importantly than anything else, you will be prepared. All elite athletes, acclaimed surgeons, and polished professional speakers know that preparation is what separates the good from the great. Skill, talent, and intuition may be what allowed these individuals to achieve success, but preparation, practice with a purpose, is the secret to prolonged eminence.
Below are a few suggestions for how everyone in the family can perform Cheshbon haNefesh. Note: While the process can certainly be done privately, I encourage you to engage in this process with friends or family. It will help with accountability and perhaps even more so, demonstrate the power of relationships. You will sit together and realize that your seemingly ordinary actions are quite extraordinary and that the TBE community is one that works together, prays together, studies together, and lives together.
Children ages 2-5
- Children in the early childhood grades can reflect on some of their favorite things (toys, stories, food, friends). Getting them to share about their lives is a critical step in their cognitive growth and development of self-esteem. Invite them to identify one or two new activities they'd like to try in the coming year and make a plan to do so.
Children ages 6-10
- In the elementary school years, children are exposed to many new ideas from a wide variety of sources beyond the home. Teachers, friends, and media all have an incredible impact on these impressionable children. School-aged children are also able to begin to understand more sophisticated feelings such as grief, sadness, disappointment, and regret. They also relish praise and the opportunity to impress those in their midst.
- Encourage these children to share some of their true strengths in academics, sports, interpersonal relationships or other areas. Challenge them to understand why they have experienced success and remind them of the notion that by becoming deliberate, they will be able to achieve continued success in these areas and learn many new things as well.
- Ask these children to share some areas where they have let down themselves or others in the past year. You will be surprised with their clarity and poignancy.
Children ages 11-14
- At this stage, children are emerging into the adults they will become (ready or not...) Having recently become, or about to become b’nai mitzvah, this is a natural segue to including Jewish concepts in their daily lives.- Conversations can certainly include discussions of what it means to be an adult in the Jewish tradition while remaining minors in American society and should also include some talk about how they can become proactive in doing the right thing in peer group situations and volunteering in various organizations.
Teenagers ages 15-18
- These students have the added complication of being immersed in high school society. This challenging time for some is also the first opportunity for many in the area of autonomy. While still reliant on their parents/guardians for transportation and financial assistance, these teenagers are excited to be on their own. They go out with friends unsupervised, many begin to hold part-time jobs, and a vision for the future, while perhaps not always cogent, is very much on their minds.
- Encourage these teenagers, many of whom are notoriously reluctant to communicate, to share a few of their plans for the coming years and ask them to plot out how these goals can be achieved. It is equally important to give these emerging adults the opportunity to express their failures of the past and to own up to them without fear of being judged. The healthiest relationships between parents and children (particularly teenagers) are ones where there is a free flow of information and conversation. Rather than being blamed or punished for transgressions, parents can help teenagers see their missteps as occasions from which lessons can be learned so as to prevent future errors.
- For many of these students, college serves as the introduction to an alternate world. A world full of mystery and discovery and they should be encouraged to seek. This exploration can be challenging however, if the students don't feel as if they have any source from which to return.
- Encourage these students to express new views even if they are not fully developed. The exploring that happens in college is a critical stage in adult development and frequently serves as a motivating tool to get involved in social action projects, among others.
- As these students near graduation, helping them to understand the areas of life most important to them will go a long way to assisting them in their future job selection. While a job does not make a person, it does represent an expression of their beliefs and allegiances. Students should be encouraged to find meaningful work but also to understand the responsibilities they will likely encounter in the coming years (marriage, new family, home, etc...)
- This category, while certainly the original constituent group as suggested by Rabbi Lefin, may in fact be the most challenging. For adults, an annual process of self-evaluation should serve as a reset button, the tare button on a scale, if you will. It gives us all, fallible individuals, the chance to start anew, while still having the benefit of the past yet not having those strikes count against us.
- To allow the true benefits of the process of Cheshbon haNefesh, we all need to be honest and open with ourselves. Recognizing our inadequacies and the areas in which we have erred will allow us to move beyond them for the future. This process, however, isn't intended to be punitive. Done properly, it allows us to realign ourselves and permits us to focus on new interests and areas of concentration. In a rough way, it's to say, "This is who I was last year and this is who I want to be in the year ahead."
Shana Tova u'Metuka - I wish you a happy and sweet new year.