Last Shabbat evening was a wonderful service that expressed our appreciation to our teachers and madrichim (assistant teachers) for all they do to enrich the lives of our students in Religious and Hebrew school. We also honored our Kitah Zayin students who are graduating Religious School after years of study. Their teacher, Nathan Ziman, gave a stirring address to his students that was personal, touching, and at times, funny. Nate’s address not only touched the hearts of his students, but all of us in the congregation. I find Nate’s words inspiring. With his permission, it is my pleasure to share his address with the readers of this column:
"First I’d like to say that you are a very unique bunch, I’m proud of how much each of you have grown in the almost two years that I’ve been your teacher. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from you guys - and I’m not talking about 2chainz, llamas, what foxes sound like, or what the heck goes on in the Jr. High hallway,
I’m talking about how you interpret the things around you, and when directed and focused the incredible insight you provided. It was hearing what you really think about social issues and how effortlessly you could relate them to more tangible things in your world... yes like 2chainz, llamas and the Jr. High hallway. It is a skill that I think many of us and many adults do not appreciate enough in young people.
For those of you who do not know, this year our class has been about social justice and community awareness. We took this on by looking at current issues in the news. Initially we did so not from a Jewish perspective but from a human perspective.
We looked at a wide variety of issues, from the Barilla pasta CEO effectively saying his products aren’t for gay people, and why it isn’t productive to refer to undocumented immigrants as illegal aliens all the way to institutionalized racism at the University of California, and cultural appropriation during Halloween.
After sharing our initial reactions upon reading an article or watching a video clip each week, we’d take a step back to think again… this time from a social justice and human point of view – ‘what’s the greater issue this article is talking about?” “How does it connect to you” and “What are 3 concrete things we can do’ I would ask.
This connects to one of the goals of social justice and what living Jewishly teaches. It implores you to look at issues outside of where you stand. As we got further into the year and deeper into issues we learned that social justice isn’t really about doing what is right, it is about addressing the things we see around us that are wrong.
As we know, these things are many, some which can be difficult to identify and most which are not easily solved - but what I was seeking to accomplish this year is encompassed in one of my repeated mantras from Rabbi Tarfon that all of the students know (and are probably tired of hearing me say):
‘lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, vlo atah ben chorin lahibatel mimena’
That it is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.
As you are adults or soon will become an adult, it’s our duty to address social issues like the one’s we talked about and work towards their and your own improvement and that holds true even if you don’t know what the solution is or cannot fix them alone.
Thank you, Shabbat Shalom - and I’ll still see you guys on Sunday.”