|Raising the Tallitot at Kabbalat Shabbat on 5/6/16|
Yesterday was Yom HaShoah. At morning T'filah you really surprised me, your teachers, and the entire Middle School by wearing your tallitot for the first time in many months. As far as the tallitot go, I get it. It's not intuitive to come from math, science, or Language Arts, down to the gym for T'filah and feel like you want to wear a piece of special Jewish ritual clothing that you made in 6th grade. I've never perceived your lack of wearing a tallit as a sign of disrespect or lack of caring, more as a reality of Middle School life and challenge that I can relate to: the challenge of figuring out how Judaism can be an authentic part of every day life. It's because of your ruach yesterday that today, when you stood underneath the tallitot for your blessing, you didn't stand under the generic ones we have at school, but under the ones that reflect past chapters of the journey that each of you are on. Chapters that have brought you to the present moment, a moment of such excitement and promise.
Yesterday afternoon, in honor of Yom HaShoah, we heard a remarkable speaker from the Breman Holocaust Museum: Mr. Herschel Greenblat. You came to the gym with tremendous kavod, you showed kavod for the entire hour that he spoke, and many of you showed kavod by coming to shake his hand and thank him. Mr. Greenblat shared something that surprised many of us-- he said it was his first time speaking to a group made entirely of Jewish students at a Jewish school. I know we all appreciate the profound gift that he gave us. But do you understand the gift that you gave him in return? Repeatedly he said to you, "You need to be the ones who get what I'm saying. You need to be the ones who remember. The ones who ensure, 'Never Again.'" When I asked you if you got it and you all raised a hand, gave a smile, or a thumbs up--- that was a special moment. That moment says a lot about who you are, not on the surface, but in your hearts, in your souls, in your minds. After his speech a student asked Mr. Greenblat if he had been back to the Ukraine to see the caves where he lived the first years of his life in hiding. He said no. He said he hoped to visit there sometime but that it was much more important for him to take a different trip first. Before going to Ukraine, Mr. Greenblat hopes to visit Israel, where many of his family members who also survived the Holocaust now reside. Each of you will be visiting Israel before Mr. Greenblat, but I don't think he was envious at all. I think the fact that we're going to Israel gave him tremendous comfort, hope, and inspiration. Actually, I think the fact that you exist gives him that same comfort, hope, and inspiration.
Over the next couple of weeks, as we travel through Israel together, there will be many moments and opportunities. As you finish up your packing and studying for exams, let me share a couple of thoughts with you with the hopes that they'll help you get the most out of the incredible gift that your parents and your school are giving to you.
1. You may not know that a moment is your moment until long after the moment has gone. Don't worry about it. That's just the way life is. The best way to approach this is to embrace every opportunity that comes your way. Be open, be curious, be engaged. Don't expect things to happen to you, expect things to happen through you.
2. Be kind. Be kind to yourself, be kind to your friends and classmates, be kind to the people we meet, and the sites that we visit in Israel. If you are gracious and kind, you'll receive the same in return. One year we found ourselves at the very swearing in ceremony that Morah Sigal described this morning. It was so moving. After the ceremony many of the kids said mazal tov to the families that had come to watch their children be sworn in to the IDF. Those families in turn invited those kids to join their family's celebrations. It was a moment of true kindness and connection. I hope you experience some version of that.
3. Be open to the possibilities. Many people that you know and that you see in the world around you feel a tremendous burden. It's not a burden you might think of at this point in your life, but it is a serious one. The burden that many people feel is that they can't be who they truly want and are meant to be, because they feel burdened by the person that people think that they are. They think that just because they never wore a kippah in the past, they can't wear one in the present. They think that just because they never cried at a sad movie, they can't suddenly do so in the present. They think that just because they never felt God's presence in the past, they can't in the present. Unburden yourself. Don't worry, no one is judging you based on who you were or who they want you to be. Create your own life and your own self.
There's a lot more that can be said, but we'll have plenty of time to say it. I hope these initial thoughts give you something to ponder as we get ready to go on the trip of a lifetime.
Shabbat Shalom from Atlanta! See you real soon.