Thursday, October 22, 2009

Let's "Bat Mitzvah" the Ladybugs!

They're everywhere! For the past couple of days, we've had more ladybugs on the windows of the synagogue than Pharaoh had frogs in his bed.

More than one person quipped that if only I "bar mitzvahed" them, I'd never see them again.

I'm happy to say that when I mentioned that to a bar mitzvah student who was working with me in my office this afternoon, he didn't get the joke.

"Why is that the case?" he asked. "Why wouldn't you see them again?"

So I replied, "In the olden days (read: the days before kids loved Hebrew School and their parents felt that bar/bat mitzvah was the end, rather than the beginning, of a lifetime of Jewish learning), that's what everyone believed. Once they became bar mitzvah, we would never see kids again."

He was dumbfounded. And then I went into my prepared speech about how important it was for this student, the first in his class to become bar mitzvah, to set the example with an excellent attendance record at Hebrew School for the remainder of the school year. Almost all the kids do finish out the year here, but it's important to make that statement right from the start.

But the thought of quitting hadn't even entered his mind. When I brought up the idea of "continuing on," he assumed I was speaking about next fall, when he reaches 8th grade, and he said he was already looking forward to being an aide (madrich) in the classroom for the younger grades.

In all our defeatism, maybe we forget that these kids - and many of their parents - are not so battle weary as Jewish educators tend to be. Maybe we in the trenches are doing a better job than all the think tankers and so-called experts tend to assume.

If this first student caused me to pause and reflect, my next student absolutely put me to shame.

By the time he came in, my the bugs were all over the place, both in and outside my window. Our executive director had gone out for bug spray - this on the eve of our Global Climate Healing Shabbat, where I intend to focus on the lovely sustainable garden we'll be creating in a few weeks. And here I was presiding over a massacre of insects.

So the student, Jordan Ganz, suggested that we suck them all up in a dustbuster and then empty the bag outside, so the harmless little creatures could go on living their brief lives in the great outdoors. That tactic had worked for him at home, where he tries never to kill insects.

I promised Jordan I would bring a dustbuster in tomorrow.

The things we learn from our students can be humbling indeed - including the very powerful message that, despite our own cynicism, we might not be doing such a bad job after all.

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