The start of the school year typically presents a challenge with balance. Fall brings us an often-appreciated change of weather, and we shiver a bit from the chilly mornings and sad sight of our slowly shriveling much-loved gardens. Rosh HaShanah’s festive feel includes sweet foods and celebratory meals with family and friends, and it also serves as a time of judgement in determining our fate for the year. And in the same spirit, Simchat Torah represents the culmination of reading the full Torah, and then we find ourselves beginning all over again with the very first word.
This balance between the present and the future, the jovial and the austere, the culmination and beginning might seem contradictory at first, but it is a key part of our annual transition, extending to any time of transition or creation. Similarly, in creating our new Jewish day school, Einstein Academy, we wrestle with making sense of these seemingly-contradictory concepts every day.
Present and the future - In developing our school, we are constantly focused on marrying the past, present, and future. Our school is based on Jewish values and traditions, which are thousands of years old, that must live side-by-side within the context of 21st century skills and social entrepreneurism. Social entrepreneurism is defined by the Stanford Social Innovation Review as an “innate ability to sense and act on opportunity, combining out-of-the-box thinking with a unique brand of determination to create or bring about something new to the world” to benefit society. It has deep roots in Jewish tradition, connecting to tikkun olam (repairing the world) and our obligation to help each other. Additionally, 21st century skills like critical thinking and communication have been values of our tradition for centuries. What we grapple with now is the context, purpose, and sense of urgency behind these traditional values and skills.
Jovial and austere - While school should be a place of excitement for students, faculty, and parents, there is an enormous responsibility associated with influencing kids during their most formidable years. We must foster both social emotional and academic growth. We must provide space for student autonomy, while ensuring they learn the skills and content they need for success. We must recognize every student as an individual, while also forming a community. Our views of education can be likened to our relationship with God and the concept of “yirat Hashem,” balancing love and fear, honor and respect, closeness and distant awe, constantly needing to balance the seemingly-contradictory feelings and priorities, taking our jobs seriously, but not too seriously.
Culmination and beginning - This tension goes to the true role and purpose of education and schooling. Is student success in school about graduating or cultivating lifelong learning? Do educators teach skills and content or prepare students for the real world? Should teachers start students’ educational journey or set the foundation for something much bigger? One of the messages George Couros, author and innovator, shared at the Prizmah 2019 Conference was that we should be working with students so that they feel empowered to make a difference in their worlds today (not when they are older/graduate/after college). With this in mind, school is neither a culmination or a beginning, rather an essential piece of the journey. Similarly for our work, another debate that arises is the discrepancy in when the world was created. It is impossible to know for sure when Einstein Academy was created. The foundation for the school comes from 34 years of combined experience in the field of education, working with students. So just like the Tosfot (Rosh Hashanah 27a) say that the thought of creating the world came to God at one time (Rosh HaShanah), but that the world was not brought into creation until later (Nisan), so to with this school.
Every Rosh HaShanah, we enter into a pre-creation space, full of potential and future. The themes of repentance are absent from our Rosh HaShanah liturgy, emphasizing this past-less space, free of regret. We are an empty slate, full of future and potential. When we begin a new year -- in any way -- we should draw on the same inspiration by removing ourselves from our past limitations and wondering what could be, setting an ambitious plan for ourselves and the world around us and figuring out how to achieve it, seeing ourselves both as individuals and as vital parts of the community around us.
May we all realize the potential of ourselves and our students and work towards what could be for all of us!
Dr. Sarah Levy and Mark Parmet are co-founders and co-heads of school of Einstein Academy, a Jewish day school scheduled to open in the Denver, Colorado area in the fall of 2020.