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They Think Deeply About Important Things

03/10/2022 10:00:50 AM


Rabbi Steven Folberg


It was a particularly joyful scene in Sunday School this past week. It was the first time that we had been able to meet in person ("in three dimensions," as I like to say) since last fall, before the omicron variant of COVID-19 once again forced a retreat into virtual, online learning.

While our Education Director Carly Cera and her teaching staff brought every ounce of their passion, commitment and creativity to the online Sunday School and Hebrew School endeavor, there is just no substitute for being in a room with other people. The shared emotional and intellectual energy (not to mention the happiness of shared singing and prayer with your friends during tefillah) just can't be fully reproduced in front of a laptop screen. So, yes, there was more than a little bit of a "block party" atmosphere on Sunday throughout the Shirley Barish Learning Center.

There were also some deeply touching and thought-provoking moments. One particular interaction stands out in my mind.

It all happened while Rabbi Levy, Carly and I led a kind of hybrid tefillah and group discussion with our eighth, ninth and tenth graders, during the last half hour of second session Sunday School. In past years this would've taken place in a circle of chairs in our chapel, but with our Sanctuary and Chapel still inaccessible due to the arson attack at the end of October, we met in our interim prayer space in Smith Auditorium.

We began by teaching a sweet, folk melody to some words from the traditional evening prayers. Hashkivenu, a blessing which asks the Holy One to "help us to lie down in peace, and to awaken [the next morning] to life," includes the Hebrew words, “uf’ros alaynu sukkat sh’lomekha,” which means, "spread over us the shelter of Your peace."

After singing the melody a few times, I told our students that lately, one of those Hebrew words had been commanding my attention whenever I came across it. The word is alaynu, meaning, “over us.”

When we hear those words, "over us," it's natural to first think of the people closest to us: our family members, our friends, and if we are in services, the people sitting around us in the chapel or sanctuary. But," I continued, "what if we really expand that word, us, and push the boundaries so that it includes the biggest "us" there is: all of us, all human beings, the entire human family? Who in that big, human family most urgently needs a "shelter of peace" and safety spread over them these days?

The ensuing discussion was beautiful. One of the students brought up the citizens of Ukraine, and we engaged in a deep discussion about the Russian invasion, the fact that Vlyodomir Zelensky, the President of Ukraine who has become an international hero, is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, and the checkered history of Ukrainian Jews.

“Who else really needs a ‘shelter of peace’ spread over them,” I asked again.

“Trans kids,” someone responded. And we talked about the proposed legislation in Texas and elsewhere that would label as ‘child abusers’ (and effectively criminalize) parents who provide gender affirming medical and other support their trans kids.

Our world is so troubled in so many ways right now. But I draw hope from the sensitivity, sense of justice, and profound caring of our young Jews. And because the kids tell us that so many of their teachers are forbidden to have “current events” discussions in their schools, I wanted you to know that our Temple provides a place or the kids to wrestle with urgent ethical issues in a deep and thoughtful way, in an environment in which their opinions are taken seriously.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Steven Folberg

Fri, September 29 2023 14 Tishrei 5784