Everyone around me was as surprised by the power of her words as I was. Standing in our beautifully decorated and colorful school sukkah with community members, current families, and alumni parents, we were moved by the powerful call to action. Our speaker that morning- despite her novice role as teacher – demonstrated emotional awareness and intellectual depth.
Our JCDSRI fifth grader was articulate and poised throughout her talk. Oh – did I not mention that our teacher was all of 10 years old?!
Yes – this student offered us an accurate description of some of the laws relating to the building of sukkot and a sophisticated analysis of the Rabbinic texts. But what was most impressive was how she used her understandings to frame an ethical approach to a complex social issue – in this case housing insecurity. Explaining that the laws of the holiday of Sukkot direct us to “build something that makes us feel a bit vulnerable,” she asserted that these mitzvot “remind us that there are some people today that don’t have houses or any shelter at all.” Her message was clear: experiencing the vulnerability of temporarily residing in a sukkah ensures that we remember that there are “people in the past and in the present who need our sensitivity and understanding.”
As I listened with pride to this student enjoin her audience toward greater self-awareness and empathy, I was reminded of the clarion call of our ancient prophets, urging us toward tzedek u-mishpat, righteousness and justice, and hesed ve-rahamim, kindness and compassion. They asked us – like this JCDSRI student – to embrace our vulnerabilities as a lens through which we can see other people’s suffering, as well as their inestimable value. And she used our sacred texts to help her respond to the world as it is with a vision for what it might become.
I also heard the echo of her words – and those of the prophets – in the writings of John Dewey, the father of progressive education. He explained that education “represents not only the development of children and youth, but also the future of the society of which they will be constituents.” At JCDSRI, our mission is essential — to give our students the skills, values and the charge to make a difference today and in the future. I invite you to come see for yourself the impact our students are making.