by Daniel R. Weiss
Daniel R. Weiss is the Head of School at Bornblum Jewish Community School in Memphis, Tennessee. Over the summer, Mr. Weiss’ column will appear monthly rather than weekly.
Yesterday was Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, the seven-week period from Pesach till Shavuot. This day is a significant day on the Jewish calendar for several reasons. Lag B’Omer marks the death of Shimon bar Yocai, the author of the Zohar, a kabbalistic text. Shimon bar Yochai told his students that the day of his passing should be marked as a day of joy. Lag B’Omer also marks the day on which a plague that had struck 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students stopped, leaving Rabbi Akiva five students who would become the leaders of Judaism.
Many have asked, “why such a terrible plague to begin with?” How can it be that Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest rabbis in Jewish history would have 24,000 students die by a plague? The answer most often given is that the plague was sent as a result of infighting among the students who in turn were going against the teaching of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva taught in the name of Rabbi Hillel – V’Ahavta L’reacha Kamocha, Love your neighbor as yourself. Their fighting, their inability to recognize the important value of respect even when you have a difference of opinion, led to their ultimate demise.
Besides the commemoration of these two events which took place on Lag B’Omer, we light bonfires to remind us of the power that each soul has in lighting a spark in those around us. Last night, at our eighth grade graduation, we saw that this is what our students had done. Each of them lit a spark in those around them. Lighting a spark makes you a leader.
A leader leads by example. They say, Acharay – after me. They don’t tell you what to do, they show you how it should be done. They listen to those around them, even when they disagree. They “try” to see the good in those around them, the important role that each of us may play. Most importantly, they must be surrounded by those who support them; people who see their true potential.
Many of our graduates have grown up in this school for eight years. Others have joined along the journey. Yet, each of our students has left a mark on us just as we here have left a mark on them.
Rebbi Nachman of Breslov teaches that “all beginnings require that you unlock a door”. While the doors of this school will always be open to our graduates (after they buzz in, wave at Sandra, our administrative assistant and get a visitor’s badge, of course), they will encounter other doors that will require a key, a password, and some effort to pass through. Without knowledge, without drive – these doors will remain locked.
In their years at Bornblum, our graduates have acquired many keys and door codes. We have helped them to unlock many doors. We have greeted them at the door and have ushered them into our lives. Yet the next part is solely in their hands.
Will they try the handle only to give up? Will they push through whatever obstacle might be in their way? Will they use their prior experiences as a guide to help them pass through? Will they open the door for those around them?
I recently saw an amazing video by the Shalva Band, a band that I know all of our graduates have heard of and seen as they recently performed at Eurovision. The song is titled, הדלת תהיה פתוחה the door will be open. For our students, many doors are open and they just need to be willing to walk through. Others they must choose to open and see what’s on the other side. I believe they will. I believe that each of them will never shut the door on who they are, what they have learned or on those who helped them get there.
I always laugh when a Bar or Bat Mitzvah student in their speech says “I’d like to thank my parents, because if it wasn’t for them… I wouldn’t be here today.” But there is truth in these words. If it weren’t for parents, our graduates would not have made it to graduation. Parents have shown their commitment and dedication to their children’s education, to the value of a Jewish education, the importance of community, to the centrality of Israel as our homeland, and to what Bornblum Jewish Community School stands for. Parents have weathered the storm, stuck with us and trusted us to give their children the framework, the basis for making Jewish decisions and educated life decisions. At Bornblum, parents do this every day, knowing that our amazing Staff and Faculty give of themselves to enrich the lives of children. And in return, the children enrich our lives as well.
My wisdom this week is that this dedication by the parents of our graduating students cannot end now. They must sign their children up for Jewish youth groups, bring them to temples, synagogues and shuls on a regular basis, send them to Jewish camps, get involved with the JCC, JCP and other Jewish organizations in and around Memphis, find high school programs in Israel like Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim and Alexander Muss High School in Israel, and most importantly, model for their children life-long Jewish learning and involvement. These parents have given their children a valuable head start, but these students are not finished yet, and neither are we as parents.
To the graduates and their families, and to all those in the Memphis Jewish community who sustain and support this school, I offer my sincere congratulations and gratitude.