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 In Hashavua Article

A Blessing to Be

I remember my time teaching in Philadelphia all too well. I had been assigned to a school in the heart of Kensington, where poverty and gun violence were more pervasive than anywhere in the city. My students were crammed, often 50 at a time, into classrooms that did not have half as many seats. They came to school tired, hungry and often scarred from what had taken place on their street the night before. Needless to say, teaching amidst all these challenges was a difficult task.

One particular week, I remember being on the verge of quitting the profession altogether. A neighborhood that had been historically marginalized. Students that had been repeatedly traumatized. Illiteracy that reached back generations. They all presented a tangle of complex and seemingly intractable problems that I felt were beyond my ability to solve. Slumped over the tiny desks in the computer lab of the Graduate School of Education, fatigued and demoralized, I resolved to end my brief career as a teacher and pursue another vocation.

That is when a friend of mine, Hannah, walked into the lab and saw me. She asked me what had gotten me into this state–what had brought me to the point of wanting to quit the field of education. After I told her all that had me down, she stood in thought for a moment, then offered me a sage wisdom that changed my life. “It is a blessing to be,” she said, “where the need is greatest.”

Hannah was the first person to make me feel proud of my willingness to try and fail. She reminded me that I did not have to solve the world’s problems, but just allow myself to be in their presence, working at them in earnest. She opened me to a new perspective: I was not surrounded by negativity, as long as I recognized the positivity in being where my actions meant the greatest difference.

Once more, she showed me that it was not only me who was meant to receive this blessing: the kids themselves are the ultimate beneficiaries of their own acts of service. I was awoken to an entirely different approach in pedagogy, one centered around creating opportunities for children to plan and engage collaboratively in their own service paths.

This year in Kitah Hay, we have already embarked on our path of service in the context of Jewish learning. Through learning the teachings of the 12th Century Spanish philosopher Maimonides, we came to understand the hierarchy of the mitzvah (commandment) of tzedakah (righteous giving), from contributing items of material significance to creating lifelong opportunities for those in need. We prepared over 150 care packages for people lacking shelter in San Jose, filled in hygiene products and nourishment as well as resource guides through which these individuals could find housing and job opportunities. All the packages and resource guides were assembled by the kids.

Now, we are embarking on a new pathway–six of them, in fact. Our class has split itself into six groups, each dedicated to researching and addressing a cause through charitable actions; each supported by a student’s parent dedicated to the same cause. Building up to our Milestone in May, each of these groups will have a week in the spotlight, where they will reach out to you and mobilize the Yavneh community onto their particular path of service. Listed below are the five causes that will be spotlighted for six consecutive weeks beginning at the end of this month.

1. Rescuing abused/abandoned animals & Stopping Animal Cruelty

2. Fighting to end Breast Cancer

3. Bird Rescue

4. Fighting Global Hunger (two groups)

5. Combating Child Illness

You can count on receiving six emails, written by the fifth graders themselves, explaining their initiative and the reasons for it. They will too ask for your participation, through donation, setting of intention and the spreading of awareness. Their goal is to bless you–to give you the opportunity to position yourselves where the need is greatest. We are hopeful that you will receive our blessing and bless others in turn.

Warmly,

Zack