Shortly before Pesach, my wife and I will celebrate the first birthday of a grandson whom we have yet to meet in person. Since his birth in New York City, during the early weeks of the pandemic (at a time when his father could not enter the hospital because of prevailing COVID-19 restrictions), we have watched his considerable growth via FaceTime. The availability of such technology is truly a gift.
Recently, I read a book co-authored by two very distinguished Jewish educators, Dr. Bruce Powell and Dr. Ron Wolfson, titled: Raising A+ Human Beings. In his preface to this very worthwhile and accessible work, Rabbi Ed Feinstein recounts the following:
“I remember my first Parents Night as a head of school: ‘Your job is to get my kid into a good college!’ a parent informed me. ‘All we ask is that you give our kids the tools to be successful!’ offered another.”
As Purim and the one year anniversary of the initial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic draw near, there is cause for cautious optimism. The L.A. area COVID-19 surge has declined. Effective vaccines have been developed and are – despite “roll out” challenges – being administered to increasing numbers of people.
Each year, at Hanukkah, I reflect on the story beyond the story. In the face of the pervasive power of Hellenism, a popular uprising in Judea, led by the Maccabees, succeeded in pushing back Syrian-Greek forces, rededicating the Temple and establishing a dynasty that governed Judea for a century. Yet, self-rule – much of the time characterized by internal conflict -- under that dynasty lasted only a century and, a century beyond that, the Temple was destroyed by the Romans.
The American philosopher and psychologist William James (1842-1910) observed that “the great use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.” There is no greater exemplar of this ideal than the Biblical Moses. Moses devotes forty years to guiding the Israelites through an extraordinary journey; though he doesn’t enter the promised land, the legacy of Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our teacher, is the enduring “heritage of the congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4, describing the Torah).
While Jewish tradition actually knows of multiple New Years, the first of Tishrei is commemorated as Rosh Hashanah, literally “head of the year.” Rosh Hashanah is associated with the creation of the world; “today is the birthday of the world” is a refrain within the traditional Rosh Hashanah liturgy.
A number of years ago (2008), a book titled, "The Last Lecture" was published. This best-seller was an expanded version of a lecture by Professor (of computer science) Randy Pausch, who – knowing that he had but a few months to live – delivered a last lecture at Carnegie Mellon University. The father of three young children, Randy Pausch’s talk, replete with advice on how to lead life, was not only targeted to his immediate listeners, but to his children as well.
As parents of school-aged children are very well aware, the Governor and the L.A. County Department of Public Health have determined that waivers for in-person school operations will not, currently, be considered, in the face of the COVID-19 case rate in Los Angeles. In addition to early childhood education centers, camps and day care programs can, under certain conditions, operate. School boards and educators – and, of course, parents and students -- are faced with difficult decisions.
The year 2020 marks the centennial of a remarkable Jewish educational initiative. In October 1920, Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) opened the Freies Judisches Lehrhaus (The Jewish House of Free Study), in Frankfurt. This adult education institute was designed to share Jewish learning with a generation not well versed in Jewish texts, serving as a modern “beit midrash” (house of study).