Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 43

Don’t Let the Light Go Out!

December 10, 2020

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and in good health. Please continue to be diligent regarding all safety protocols and be assured that we, as a congregation, are here for you. Feel free to call me directly if there is anything that we can do to support you during the ongoing crises.

My “weekday” job is a great naches for me. As you know, I teach high school Rabbinics at the Leffell School in Hartsdale, New York (formerly the Solomon Schecter Day School of Westchester). I teach ninth-twelfth grade teenagers and introduce them to a variety of texts including Mishna, Gemara, Midrash and Tanach. Additionally, for the upper classmen, I have created a curriculum on the study of Mussar (spiritual perfection) and a hybrid course entitled Salacious Stories of Scripture. It is uplifting to see the growth in the students’ skillsets, but even more importantly, their growth as reflective thinkers. In fact, the last two courses that I mentioned above, have a lot of creative writing assignments and dynamic discussions as they relate to spiritual growth and societal mores.

By all accounts, it was an extremely ambitious move to start school in-person this past September. Most people suggested it could not be done. Nonetheless, our administration evaluated each detail of de-densification and sanitization to make it happen. Part of our in-school protocols included one-way hallways, dedicated up and down staircases (probably taken from Fiddler on the Roof’s “If I Were a Rich Man”) and staggered class dismissals. Additionally, classrooms were all updated technologically to include dual-monitor computers and short-circuit TV cameras to allow for simultaneous teaching to students both on and off campus.

The impetus to make this work, I believe, was based on a holistic consideration of the educational and social-emotional needs of our students. Exclusive on-line learning is difficult and young people (as well as us adults for sure) need human interaction to combat potential feelings of alienation, isolation, fatigue, and even depression. I do not know the exact figure, however, I would estimate that the preparation and maintenance of the in-person and Zoom learning cost the school literally hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Yesterday, in light of a second confirmed case of Covid-19 (one freshman and one senior), and in deference to the standards of the CDC and Westchester County Board of Health, the school decided to end in-person learning through January 4, 2021.

While this situation is unfortunate, I am honored to be part of an organization that worked so diligently to maximize learning opportunities while simultaneously adhering to and being smart about all relevant health and safety practices.

So, as we begin Hannukah, the Festival of Lights, and as I jump into full online Zoom learning, our adopted mantra will come from the famous holiday song of Peter, Paul and Mary, which goes:

Don't let the light go out!

It's lasted for so many years!

Don't let the light go out!

Let it shine through our hope and our tears.

As you approach Hannukah and the new calendar year of 2021 (Thank God!), I challenge you to become like the Shamash on the Menorah; share your light, share your joy, share your blessings share your Torah, and Don’t Let the Light Go Out.

Chag Urim Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser, EdD
201 562 5277

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